You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

I’ve spent my career so far in states where snow days are common. In the days before Zoom, snow days were often spontaneous mini-vacations, even if part of the day was usually spent doing battle with a hostile driveway. (Broadband has gradually encroached on the decadent luxury of snow days; I fear Zoom and similar platforms may have destroyed it. Alas.) Snow days are an inexact science. Someone has to decide by about 5:30 a.m. what the weather is likely to be and how local school districts are going to react, and then make the call. Weather forecasting has improved over the years, but if you live in snowy areas long enough, you’ll probably have a few stories to tell of blizzards that weren’t. Sometimes, too, storms are much worse than forecast, forcing people to negotiate treacherous conditions on the way home. Some bad calls are just facts of life.

The careful reader will notice that I included “how local school districts are going to react” in that paragraph. There’s a reason for that. Many employees, and more students, are also parents of school-aged (or younger) kids. If the college doesn’t close, but many of the K-12 schools in the area do, then you’re forcing all of those parents into no-win choices. When those mismatches happen, absenteeism goes up, and I’m certain that suboptimal childcare arrangements go up, too. That might be easy to ignore on a campus full of single 18-year-olds who live in dorms, but most community colleges have plenty of parents of young children among their students. Ignoring that reality isn’t an option.

I mention snow days (in June, no less) because I’ve seen a few folks on Twitter connect the dots between what K-12 schools will do this September and what colleges will do. Take the lesson of snow days and raise it a couple levels of magnitude.

If a bunch of the local elementary schools address social distancing by going to split days in the fall -- whether by hours of the day, days of the week, weeks of the month or whatever -- they will immediately create massive local childcare crises. The mismatch of the length of the school day (and year) with adult workplaces is bad enough already; add some sort of hybrid delivery and you’re putting extreme demands on parents and local daycare options. Given the income levels of many of our students, some of the arrangements are likely to be far worse than most of us would like to believe. And that’s assuming no second wave that abruptly closes the schools.

This is one major reason that whatever we wind up doing (and being able to do) with on-site classes, we’re planning the vast majority of classes this fall to be online in one form or another. Community colleges as a group have been relatively aggressive in adopting online teaching. Our threadbare budgets have ruled out OPMs, for the most part, which has meant that our own faculty cross modalities. I consider that a strength. If nothing else, it makes it much easier to ensure a consistent level of academic rigor. Hand over your online operations to a for-profit vendor, and you take your chances.

I don’t mean to minimize the challenges of taking online classes while watching small children. (“So deontological ethics refer to … DADDY! I WANT TO WATCH ELMO!”) But at least it allows for physical presence where they are. For employees who are able to work from home much of the time, many of the same issues apply. But it’s a whole lot better than having to choose between leaving kids alone, leaving them with unreliable people or dropping out of college. For too many students, those are the options.

My message to colleges that plan to be really aggressive in returning to campus is simple. Don’t forget the lessons of the snow day. See what the K-12 schools are doing. It matters.

Next Story

Written By

More from Confessions of a Community College Dean