Yesterday started off beautiful and almost spring like but the forecast said we were at the high for the day and the children were just getting off to school. As the high schooler left in a t-shirt and no jacket I suggested that she was making a mistake.
Cathy and I have a routine that makes having 5 children in 5 schools work without anyone losing their sanity. I’m a morning person and Cathy is a night owl. So I get the duty of waking the children, making sure they are ready for school, and seeing them off. Sometimes this cuts into my morning productivity so at night when Cathy is getting the children bathed and ready for bed, I am often downstairs typing on my computer in the evening. I drive the children in the mornings; Cathy picks them up in the afternoons. I cook the dinners; Cathy does the dishes and laundry and lays out the children’s stuff for the next day. (Yes, the children help and have chores..to listen to the children, they have so many more chores than their friends…)
The Drive In
Yesterday, I took Evan to pre-school. As we drove, Spring turned to rain. Rain became mixed with snow. Evan arrived at school 18 minutes late (9:18). I left noting that Weigel’s had gas at $1.629 per gallon. I was on fumes but thought I’d buy at Sam’s. I forgot and drove right past it because by now the mix of snow and rain had turned completely into large, fluffy snowflakes. It was beautiful!
At 11:00am, the pre-school calls to say that Knox County Schools is considering canceling and wants to get a jump on it. Cathy is caught off guard having only downed half her daily dose of caffeine so I’m off to pickup Evan. [Update: I am reminded that Cathy couldn’t drive because Evan hid her driver’s license..which we just found today.] I test the road in front of our house and it is already slick. I achieve a 15 foot slide with ease. Noting that I need gas badly, I pull into Weigel’s. The gas has rocketed to $1.779/gallon! I put just a little in and decide to fill up at Sam’s. We are out of milk so I look like a snow panicer as I go in for a gallon. The tertiary roads are a bit scary and the secondary roads are slushy (that’ll become ice!). The primary roads are fairly clear. While picking up Evan, Knox County Schools officially cancels at 12:30 (an hour away) so Cathy and I debate pulling Sarah out early.
Bearden High School Clusterduck
I drive to the high school and the line is already long. The elementary school calls to say some buses cannot get the children and they are asking all parents to come pickup the kids. As I sit in line pointing uphill on Gallaher View Road, the slush compresses and turns to ice under my tires. Each time we nudge forward, my wheels try to spin and slide. The high school makes a royal mistake and instead of having their duty officer directing traffic, he is inside directing parents into the office. See, since school isn’t officially canceled for another 40 minutes, parents still have to walk into the school and check out their children who are on the break of becoming adults. The duty officer and a couple of others should have been directing traffic and someone with a clipboard and a radio should have been letting parents sign their children out from the cars ala drive-thru. They could have done the paperwork as the cars entered the parking lot and radio’d the office to send the child out. That would have prevented road rage, dangerous situations and sped the process along. As it was I ended up parking on the grass and walking into the school to find that the line for the office was about 20 minutes long. At this point, the students would be dismissed in about the same time. Evan has played in the snow in front of the school, shoes wet, socks wet, and pants soaked to the knees. He and I give up on the high school and start driving to the elementary school. Traffic at the high school has backed up onto Kingston Pike and is now interfering with the normal flow of traffic.
Rocky Hill Elementary
Cars are backing up traffic on Morrell Road as they try to either turn into the bus lane or go against traffic to turn into the carpool lane. Why don’t these parents just drive to Northshore and turn left at the CVS? The line is lengthy but no more so than a normal carpool line. You can tell the parents who never drive their children because they keep hopping out of their car to look up the road trying to figure out what is taking so long. The road behind the school has a 90° turn. Snow melt from the tires has covered that corner and traffic has me stop in the turn. When traffic begins to move, the van doesn’t. Oops. After some gentle encouragement, I am moving again but I worry about the cars behind me bouncing off one another as they try to navigate that turn.
Teenage Drivers in the Snow
Sarah calls for the pickup plan while I wait in the elementary school line. I had told her to walk to Downtown West so that I wouldn’t have to fight the high school traffic mess. She and her mother adjust the plan to have her walk to the mall. Sarah gets her boyfriend to drive her to the mall; his father is following behind. She asks if the boyfriend can driver her home. Both his father (whose parents live in our neighborhood) and I firmly say, “NO!” My neighborhood is a bit like an Alpine slide in the winter and is the last to see any road clearing equipment from the city or county. I agree to letting the father, a Philadelphia native, drive her home. Evan is miserable from his cold, wet wait in the car. I drive Amy and Evan home. Sarah arrives a couple of minutes later.
Bearden Middle School
The middle school buses cannot run until all the elementary school students have been bused home. I debate picking Noah up. One phone call later I learn he is already on a bus en route so I take some pictures of the jolly children and dogs enjoying the snow, then I retreat to the basement to do some programming. Telecommuters don’t get snow days.
Knox County Schools made the right choice to wait and see what would happen with the weather. They made a poor choice by not anticipating the rush of parents to the school when it got out that they were debating canceling schools. The schools need the equivalent of an evacuation plan for handling heavy traffic when closures happen. The plan should include traffic direction, separate entrances and exits to the school to avoid congestion, allowing children to use cell phones, and keeping parents in their cars rather than having them exit and go to the office. Here’s how the high school should have worked: The Gallaher Road entrance becomes exit only with a patrol car directing traffic to the south entrance of the school. The Kingston Pike entrance becomes an exit only. This forces all traffic to the Gleason Road entrance with the possibility of congesting traffic on Gleason but takes advantage of being able to create a much longer line of cars on school property in a single file rather than having any merging. Traffic direction has the line of cars S through the ROTC parking lot to maximize the number of cars off the city roads and on the school property. Traffic direction has cars go north beside the stadium, left past the bandroom, north beside the western side of the building, right in front of the school and then immediately left out to Kingston Pike or Gallaher View Road. Students should be allowed to contact their parents by cell phone or text message. If a student says, "my parents are waiting in line" they are dismissed on their honor to the office (not out of school) rather than waiting for contact from the parent to bring them down. Students contacted by cell or called over the intercom convene in the common area until their ride pulls up out front. A parent volunteer, teacher, officer, or other school staff with a radio in hand and a signout clipboard will be positioned far enough down the line to be able to call children out of class such that when the car gets to the front of the school, the student is already there. IDs are checked at the car, signatures taken at the car, and the loadout goes like clockwork. I was in the car for three hours trying to pickup children from schools and I only went to 3 of the 5 schools my children attend. The children really enjoyed the snow! And today is another snow day!