I totally sympathize with Dr. William Hart, our first-year Superintendent of Ipswich schools, when it comes to deciding whether to cancel school because of weather. He has no choice but to learn as he goes, because he is so lacking in experience. He came to us from West Newbury, which has those much more predictable inland weather patterns. Here in Ipswich, on the coast, we have maddeningly variable weather. It’s not just a matter of the weather changing from day to day. The weather is likely to be very different 20 minutes from now. I have not lived here long, but I have learned to keep a survival kit in the back of my car, including heavy winter gloves, a rain slicker, and a fold-up beach chair.
Every school night, with the weather turning and churning, I imagine Dr. Hart is caught in a cacophony of opinions about whether to cancel school the next morning. First, there are multiple weather forecasters, who offer a dizzying array of predictions. You can get whatever kind of weather you like, just by choosing a different webpage. If you don’t prefer “6 to 10 inches,” just find the guy who’s promising “negligible precip.”
Then there are the parents, who are painfully divided into nasty factions. Some want the schools to be closed at the first hint of flurries, because they work at home and don’t even have to get out of their bathrobes to shovel their driveways unless they’re expecting the FedEx man. Others absolutely want the schools to be open if at all possible, because their kids are at a certain age where the parents can really only stand to be around them two days a week, which is why God created such short weekends.
Parental opinion is also divided over the timing of school cancellations. Some want the cancellation announcement as early as possible — the afternoon prior, if possible — so they can revamp their work-and-childcare arrangements for the following day. It takes time to get Grandma up from Saugus to watch the kids. Others want the cancellation announcement made only at the last possible moment, on the off-chance that the weather system threatening to bring snow might think better of it and head toward Bermuda for the week.
Geography is also a problem. Ipswich has 32 square miles of land area, stretching from the marshes and the beach to Planet Outer Linebrook. Mother Nature can bring massive ice cream scoops of gloppy snow to Argilla Road, while Route 1 enjoys only a fairy-tale dusting of gentle, school-friendly snowflakes. Cancel school on a day like this, and parents in our western neighborhoods grouse about how Ipswich has gone soft since they were kids in school. “One day the snow was falling so thick, by the time I got to class I looked like a snowman.” Presumably without the carrot nose. Or the top hat.
Forgotten in the midst all of this conflicting opinion is the human dilemma of Dr. Bill Hart. I don’t know him personally, but I imagine what he must go through. By 4 in the morning, after sitting up all night with the weather, he’s absolutely fried.
“No school today,” he mutters into his phone. “I gotta get some sleep.”
Doug Brendel writes “The Outsidah” in his bathrobe in his outer Linebrook home. You’re invited to follow this blog.