HomeOpinionOPINION: Cancelling school is a tough call when safety is uncertain

OPINION: Cancelling school is a tough call when safety is uncertain

Last Friday, we had storms move through Madison County for a few minutes in the morning and then after that, the area dealt with high-velocity wind gusts for most of the afternoon.

Because the area had so much rain in the previous days, the ground was soft and made a perfect scenario to cause trees all over the city to topple over onto houses, power lines, cars and other things we’d rather not see a tree on top of.

But before all that happened, Jackson-Madison County Schools had to make a call. To have class or not to have class? That was the question.

A number of districts in rural West Tennessee went ahead and announced class cancellations on Thursday night. Others had class. JMCSS split the difference and canceled class but did so within the final hour Friday morning before buses would begin to head out to pick up students.

This is another one of those issues where there isn’t a black-and-white definitive issue between right and wrong.

On one hand, it’s 2023, and Americans as a group generally like to file lawsuits if they can. Knowing potentially violent storms were coming through the area and having class makes a school district vulnerable to possible lawsuits.

There’s also the notion that if an EF-5 tornado were headed toward a specific school building at 11 a.m., at 10:59, Superintendent Marlon King and his leadership staff will justifiably second-guess themselves as their decision to have class put a few hundred students right in that tornado’s path instead of keeping at least most if not all of them out of the path by telling them to stay home.

And then there are people like me who are of a certain age – I’d say at least 35 – who grew up in a time where school happened if at all possible.

When school was cancelled, you didn’t know about it until you woke up that morning, watched the local television station and prayed to see your school district’s name come across the bottom of the screen listing the closed schools in that station’s viewership area.

But now it’s not enough to simply have a snow day. Parents demand to know about the coming snow day with as much notice as possible.

And I get it. Because I’ve got five kids in school myself and three more in daycare. If school is going to be closed on Tuesday morning, there’s a certain level of tranquility that comes with going to bed on Monday night knowing we don’t have to get our kids ready before the sun comes up.

But I’m on the back end of those people that were in school if the roads were passable during times of icy weather. And in the 1980s and 1990s in northwest Alabama, the only time I remember school getting called for stormy weather was when in 1995 when Hurricane Opal was coming up from the Gulf of Mexico and moving over nearly the entire state of Alabama.

The Governor announced the day before that every county the hurricane would go over was cancelling classes the next day. It went over 65 of the 67 counties in Alabama. Unfortunately for 14-year-old Brandon, I was in one of the two other counties, so we still had school that day. So I never got out for stormy weather.

We had the plan of going out in the hallway, taking a book with us, opening it and putting it over hour heads between our knees … because that sounds like a great position to be stuck in if the building were to collapse on top of me.

It’s a tough call. And Marlon King and his group get paid a lot of taxpayer dollars to make calls like that on a daily basis.

This time they were right. My van nearly blew over while driving down Highway 45 on Friday. I’d hate to have been driving a bus full of students at that point.

Power was out all over the city and county. I’d hate to have been a student in the dark with a bunch of classmates for a few hours waiting on someone to pick me up wishing JMCSS had told me just to stay home.

And I’d really hated having been in one of those buses – or even picked up by my parents – and being stuck in traffic that backed up because a lot of stoplights at crucial intersections weren’t working because they were out of power.

By the way, when you’re at a four-way stop that has a stoplight that isn’t working, then you treat it like you would a four-way stop with stop signs. Many drivers in Jackson need a refresher on that before the next big power outage, but that’s a totally different column.

So whether you think JMCSS should’ve had classes or not, you can prove you’re right either way.

But so can the other side of this issue.

One of my favorite quotes from a television show comes from The West Wing when President Jed Bartlett was talking about how a lot of issues aren’t as clear as some think they are: “Every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts.”

Fortunately, we didn’t get to that point last week.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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