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Making the tough call

We are pretty sure this past Wednesday marked the first time this winter area schools closed because of snowy, cold, windy and icy weather.

And predictably, when people awoke to see fewer than 12 feet of snow on the ground and less than whiteout conditions outside, there was the usual protesting in the vast wasteland of social media that “kids have it easy these days” or the timeless classic, “they never canceled when I was in school.”

Despite what some may try to say, snow days were invented long before the year 2020 and we’re also pretty sure no one has ever actually walked to and from school three miles uphill both ways in three feet of snow and below-zero temperatures with no shoes.

Then, after the “today’s kids are soft” conversation subsides, someone will invariably turn the discussion to what they think of those who are tasked with clearing the roads.

Spoiler alert: It’s rarely an “attaboy” or “good job.”

For whatever reason, snow seems to make people complain like few things in the known universe can.

But we are here to do the opposite. We are here to support those with thankless jobs — those making the decisions about school closures and those out clearing away the snow, ice and slush.

Our school administrators are in a no-win situation when it comes to weather. With a district as expansive geographically as Keystone Central — the largest district in Pennsylvania when it comes to land mass — it’s hard to get an accurate read on whether it’s safe for all of the district’s students to attend, which is required by law when school is open barring a legitimate reason for absence such as illness.

And — this may surprise some people — the weather and road conditions can vary greatly from one end of the district to the other. That’s why in some places, perhaps even at the school building itself – the weather and streets can seem clear, but school is still closed. It’s because of the numerous back roads that are lower on the priority list of the limited number of snow plows and salt trucks.

Those roads also have students living along them who need to traverse them to get to school each day. Sending a school bus or an inexperienced teen driver out in slick road conditions is a literal accident waiting to happen.

Add to that the fact that heavy squalls came through Central Pennsylvania early that morning, causing a delay and actually hampering efforts to get roads thoroughly cleared and de-iced by the 10 a.m. (or so) delayed start.

Simply, it would be irresponsible for our school districts to require students to attend when it is unsafe for at least some of them to travel there in the first place, nor would it be fair for class to proceed without some of them when they could not attend due to the weather and road conditions.

We can hear some of you now.

“If the plow drivers would just do their jobs, school wouldn’t be canceled.”

We also read that person’s social media post about how their street or road is “always the last one to be plowed.”

But we urge you to look at things from an outside perspective. If you have a limited number of plows and salt trucks, where is the best place to send them for maximum impact? Most reasonable individuals would agree it is the roads frequently used by the most people.

There isn’t a concerted effort to neglect you and your street. It’s about ensuring the heavily-traveled streets and roads are clear first to lessen the number of accidents and injuries. There are so many miles of roads in this region, it would be a fool’s errand to try to plow them all equally as often while the snow is still falling. The main roads must take priority. Utilizing any other strategy would be a mistake.

It’s easy and sometimes cathartic to complain — we get that.

But we can assure you those making the call whether to adjust the school schedule and those dispatching plow trucks are doing the best they can with the information and resources they have. They have the same goals you do — ensuring the public’s (and your children’s) safety.

No plan is perfect or fool-proof.

If there is a better plan short of spending money the government doesn’t have on more trucks and drivers, we’d love to hear it. But we think the decision makers are doing as well as can be expected given difficult circumstances that are sometimes hard to accurately predict.

For that, they at least deserve our understanding, if not our praise.

Here’s to a safe winter.

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