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Unplanned school cancellations can leave working parents scrambling to solve the snow day dilemna

Tuesday, December 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:06 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

Children may love school cancellations, but for working parents, they can be a source of inconvenience.

When snow and ice force schools to close, some parents say day care or baby-sitting is the way to go, while others prefer to leave their children with relatives or friends. Some parents are forced to either take the day off or supervise their children from work.

While there are no specific guidelines for weather-related cancellations, school officials consider safety to be the most important factor in determining when to cancel school. Chris Mallory, Columbia’s assistant superintendent for secondary education, recognizes the inconvenience of unexpected cancellations, but he says the safety of children is “first and foremost.”

Prevent headaches with a plan

Paxton Keeley Elementary Principal Elaine Hassemer said parents can prevent some of the headaches that come with cancellations by having a plan. She suggests having older siblings, college students or relatives watch children during the workday.

[photo]
From left: Parker Moyer, Cassidy Ramsey, Lauren Moyer and Kim Moyer enjoy the sledding hill at Cosmo Park Dec. 13, 2000. (Missourian file photo)

Although day cares can be a reliable source for parents whose children are already enrolled, many day cares are unable to take walk-in customers. Childcare providers say regulations and staffing are their reasons for not taking walk-ins. Some are only licensed for 10 children per person and they meet these with their clients.

Tammy Fisher, the assistant director at Precious Cargo, said her day care only accepts enrolled children because it is too hard to schedule enough staff for snow and heat days.

Kathy Thornburg, the director for MU’s Center for Family Policy and Research, said that drop-in day care is difficult because the facilities are often filled to capacity and the paperwork takes too much time.

For some parents, day care is not an option because their children would only attend when candellations occur. Cedar Ridge PTA President Dean Bergstrom is in this situation with his 8-year-old son, who is not enrolled in day care because he usually has after-school activities.

Bergstrom said that during most school cancellations, his wife takes their son with her to work, but there are times when Bergstrom has to take the day off to care for his son.

Bergstrom said he appreciates the flexibility his and his wife’s jobs offers when school cancellations occur, but even then, their situation is not ideal.

“We always feel like we skirt the limits of appropriate behavior by taking him to work,” Bergstrom said. “We don’t have relatives in town, and most day cares want more than a random drop-in.”

Family and friends are important to working parents when school is canceled. Gail Tolbert, a hairstylist, sends 9-year-old Sydney and 7-year-old Ivan to stay with her parents while she goes to work. If this plan falls through, Tolbert rearranges her schedule and takes the day off, she said.

Linda Thomas said that it takes a rearrangement of schedules to accommodate her children on such days.

Cancellations can interfere with work

While her home-based business allows her to stay home with them, she admits that cancellations can sometimes interfere with the scrapbook workshops she holds.

Allana Bullock said she is lucky she works nights because her schedule allows her to watch her two sons during the day if needed. Without the flexible schedule, Bullock, having just moved to Columbia from St. Louis, would not have many other options.

“At this point, I don’t have anybody in Columbia,” Bullock said. “I would probably have to call in (to work) because I wouldn’t know what to do.”

Having schedules that allow parents to be home is something that Rob and Angela Stoker can appreciate.

“We have two different plans,” Stoker said. “Mondays through Wednesdays my husband is off, so they just go directly to him. The other days our neighbor is so kind and she takes care of them.”

Stoker said her job allows her to take the day off if all else fails.

School closings could hurt job hunters

Anna Adams is another parent who is able to be with her children when school is cancelled. She took off work for the summer so her children could have a break from day care, but she is currently job-hunting, so cancellations could become an issue.

Adams said she might be asking her friends to babysit if her future job does not allow children at the office.

Back-up plans are important to parents and school administrators when it comes to unplanned cancellations, though these days can cause headaches.

“I have children, so I understand the inconvenience,” Mallory said. “But it helps to have plans in advance.”

Karen Kelley, an instructor at the Child Development Lab, suggests swapping days with other parents if day care is not an option.

Kelley said parents should also consider having college students watch their children.

“College students are usually willing to hang around for the day for extra money,” Kelley said.

Tolbert considers herself to be lucky with a flexible job and parents in Columbia. She said it is important to have a network of friends, but she acknowledges that these days can be difficult for parents in less flexible situations.

“I don’t know how people do it if they don’t have family,” Tolbert said. “It would be a lot tougher.”

Brunnert said day care is a nice plan, but if parents do not consider this an option and do not have relatives in town, they should look into having an in-home babysitter or a local high school student watch their children.

Thomas would consider this an option, but she prefers an adult to be in charge. She said she would consider leaving her 14-year-old daughter in charge, but she would rather make other arrangements.

“I would hesitate doing that,” Thomas said. “She’s very reliable, but I still think there needs to be adult supervision.”

Thornburg said parents and schools should work together to create accommodations for days when school is unexpectedly canceled.

“It’s a community issue,” Thornburg said. “Not just a public school issue.”


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