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Thursday, January 11, 2007

The long process of digging out begins

I'm surprised he's even got power, but Mover Mike has a gripping update on today's brutal weather.

Comments (19)

I did see what appeared to be two snow flakes sticking together so you could say we had a trace. I couldn't believe they closed the schools. How many 'snow hysteria' days does the school district budget for?

If you so much as see even a single snowflake in Portland, there are people who will start talking about shutting the whole city down.

You can't even call today a "snow day." It was more like a "cold day."

I had to wear a coat today. Now I know how those Nebraskans must feel during the first few days of Spring.

I spent 10 minutes looking for my gloves, but only found two left-hands that didn't match. Laughing in the face of frost-bite, I made the 25 foot dash to my SUV, and grabbed the icy steering wheel in my chapped hands.

It's a good thing I have a reserved parking space. Thank God our children didn't have to face the vigors of winter at school today. Those that went sledding (instead of school) will be showing off their road rash tomorrow. Assuming it's safe to reopen the schools.

Is it any wonder Jonny can't read?

We've been cooped up here all day in NW Portland. Because of the high elevation (92 ft above MSL) the storm hit hard here. The car's windshield was literally spattered with drops, some of which were nearly frozen, so there was no point in even trying to open the door, let alone venture out on to the roads. I don't know how much longer we can hold out.

Hi all -- Been answering calls about this since 5:30 this morning, and don't have the energy to write anything more creative. For the record, this is how it looked to Superintendent Phillips, who gets to/has to make the call on closing school.


January 11, 2007

To the Portland Public Schools Community,

Some of you may have looked out the window at the sunshine this afternoon and wondered: Why did Portland Public Schools cancel school today?

It’s never an easy decision, but let me tell you, the conditions were very different before dawn this morning. Our school district employees were up by 4 a.m., gathering as much information about road conditions as possible, from our weather forecasting contractor, Tri-Met dispatchers, city and county road maintenance offices, webcams and personal reports.

At that point, Vancouver Schools, to our north, had already closed schools and we knew that the West Hills were particularly hard hit by the storm. After reviewing that data, at about 5 a.m. we decided to open schools two hours late, and to continue to monitor the situation.

The more we learned, the more we realized conditions varied widely across our large school district. Central city roads were generally clear; those in the outer reaches, whether along the Columbia River, in outer Southeast Portland or along the West Hills were often icy or snowy, and very slick.

At 7 a.m. I made the call to cancel school entirely – a decision that was posted shortly before 7:30 a.m. to the news service. That is the key source for news reporters, and is also easy to access from our Portland Public Schools website, www.pps.k12.or.us, following the “Inclement Weather” link.

I made that decision with the best information available about what weather and road conditions might be at 9:30 or 10 a.m., when kids would be making their way to school. I thought of the kids who would be waiting at street corners near icy streets filled with traffic, and our parents and school buses transporting kids in treacherous conditions. We recognize that any closure or delay sends working parents, in particular, scrambling to make arrangements. But when I weigh the inconvenience to us adults against the safety of our students, there is no question that I will come down on the side of the students every time.

I know the winter is young, and I will be involved in more of these pre-dawn decisions before spring arrives. We work hard to keep our schools open whenever possible, but I hope you understand that each time, our top priority will remain the safety of our 46,000 students, as you would want it to be.


Vicki Phillips, Portland Public Schools Superintendent

If the schools had opened 90 minutes late, everyone could have driven r-e-e-e-ally slo-o-o-o-o-owly.

In the late 1980s, there was an incident on a day like today -- below freezing, no snow, no freezing rain. It was Lake Oswego, and a few kids decided to find the superintendent's house in the middle of the night. They sprayed the steeply sloped driveway down with water - which promptly froze. He gets up in the morning, sees the massive ice-over, and cancels school.

This could be apocryphal, and I don't have firsthand knowledge, but I know someone who claimed to have been there...

When the culture of vitimization trumps personal responsibility and the powers of the state usurp parental authority, it is little wonder that "our top priority" (the safety of our kids) can be used to justify just about anything.

In another time and place, parents would decide if their children could make it safely to school. Those that could, did. Those that couldn't stayed home.

I was one of those grumping, head-scratching parents this morning. But, in a previous life, I was a childcare director -- and I too had to get up on these kinds of mornings, at 4:00 or 5:00 -- to read the tea leaves.

Guess wrong, in one direction, and you've closed for what seems like no good reason, and people are very mad at you.

Guess wrong, in the other direction, and if just one child dies in a weather-related road-death on the way to school, or home...

Plus, there's the other end of the thing. Six o'clock, rooms full of hungry kids whose parents can't get there to pick them up because the roads are so icy. Seven o'clock -- you send all staff who drive old cars with bald tires home. Hoping they will make it safely, and you haven't waited too long. Please Please...

How will you feel if one of your staff dies on a steep hill in front of a sliding bus?

Eight o'clock, still ten kids, you send everyone else home. Now it's just you, and the kids whose parents haven't been able to get them home.

Everyone is hungry, (at some point peanut butter and crackers gets old and just offering them makes the more sensitive in your little group, cranky.. verbally crabby and not interested in doing anything except complaining now. Coloring books? Bah Humbug! Your bag of tricks is empty. Parents continue to call, to tell you why they can't get there. It's getting slicker and slicker and nastier out there by the minute. The city is de-icing main roads, but you're blocks away, down a steep hill and around a sharp corner. In the morning, kids will be sledding there.

Whoops: "vitimization" should read victimization.

My little one was ready to get out of the bath...so no time for proofreading.

I don't blame the Supt. for being overly cautious, I blame our society for thinking all human loss and suffering must be attributed to a culpable party.

I dare say the incidence of weather related injury and death is even HIGHER when schools are closed, but (at least) the schools are less likely to be found liable. At a minimum, they could offer a skeleton staff to provide day care for those parents who have no alternative.

Mr. Tee writes>>>In another time and place, parents would decide if their children could make it safely to school. Those that could, did. Those that couldn't stayed home.

Yeah. I love those stories. About walking ten miles in the snow, and how they all drank cocoa and ate oatmeal cookies that the moms made, afterwards...

Nowadays parents decide if the meetings they are scheduled to attend that day are so important they will either a.) pump their kids full of tylenol and cold meds before they bring them to daycare/school, so that by the time their symptoms become quantifiable, the parent is in Washington, and unreachable until 3:30...

Or, b., keep them home and call in sick. Huh. What do you want to bet that not every sick child is cuddled up at home in bed in her footie jammies?

As for snow days -- if you are worrying about the weather closing down for possibly several days, how much will you push to get your kids to school or childcare, so you can cram a bunch in -- and what will you do if it closes in early -- and you can't get to the school or center to pick up your kids?

And, what does an employer owe her employees? The right to go home, when it is still safe to do so?

Or, not?

If you've got a school full of kids whose parents can't get to them to pick them up -- because the roads are unsafe to drive on, this becomes more than a backseat blogger-parlour game.

We're supposed to get it down here in Vegas over the weekend, too.

As for the school closures, that's one of the tough parts about managing a district that covers such a broad geographical area (particularly with such "topographic diversity" as PDX). It might be perfectly clear at lower elevations, but seriously dangerous a few hundred feet higher up.

I wonder why closure decisions aren't made more on a school-by-school basis? Is it, by any chance, that the union(s) would complain about some members getting more time off from work than others? Serious question, not intended to just flame unions. Doubtless there would be issues with some students receiving more instruction days than others as well.

It just seems to me that the greater good would be served by localizing those decisions, though. Just a thought...

By the way, I know that Beaverton School District budgets each year for a certain number of "snow days" (I assume all districts must do this as well) with missed student instruction. If more days are required than were budgeted, my understanding is that the end of the school year is extended to at least meet the state minimum instruction days.

And boy, do the teachers (the ones I know, anyhow, including my mom) get pissed off if they don't get their full complement of snow days off in a year...

I've lived in Portland for 16 years, and I can only remember two storms (the most recent was three years ago, when a solid inch of ice formed on top of 7 inches of snow) that kept most cars off the road. I was still driving my Jeep Grand Cherokee with chains all around. That was when the city/county employees were first told to report for work, and then sent home at noon (as if the risk of returning home was lower at 1:00 p.m. than 5:00 p.m.).

I've never been "stranded" by snow in Portland, although freezing rain has definitely made any form of transportation (even walking) nearly impossible.

That said, The Great Snow Apocalypse of 2007 (as Mark and Dave call it) was never expected to produce freezing rain, and were were told that any snow amounts were likely top out at 2-3 inches.

In my opinion, PPS panicked, and played it too safe, thereby creating a scramble for working parents to find daycare, or simply leave their kids home alone (REAL SAFE!). If this kind of weather event is going to close the schools, then I recommend we outlaw bicycles on public streets: the risks are simply too high.

T.V. viewing and internet access should also be curtailed (too much sex and violence).

And no more mayo in the school cafeteria. Mayo is the leading cause of food poisinging nationwide: WE MUST PROTECT THE CHILDREN!

Wow....here in Cedar Mill, we actually had snow on the ground, and all Beaverton schools were open. And when I got into downtown Portland to work, there was nothing. Not even a trace on the side streets or grass. Sad.

...and we knew that the West Hills were particularly hard hit by the storm.

Yeah, right. I live in the upper elevations of the West Hills. I, too, was up at 4 a.m. - because I had to go to work. This requires driving up and downhill along winding roads in my little two-wheel-drive buggy. In the dark.

Guess how much trouble I had? That's right -- NONE!

Oh, but don't forget to open your wallets because PPS really needs more of your money.

The conditions to the east were pretty different, though that doesn't affect "the call" on whether Portland has school. In our hinterlands outpost, we had about 3 or 4 inches of snow, which wouldn't normally be so bad. But it was 3 or 4 inches on top of about an inch of frozen slush, meaning the roads were basically impassable. We had cars stacked against each other on our hill because they'd get halfway up and slide backwards down until they hit something and stopped. My particular vehicle lost traction at 15 mph, whereupon I promptly accelerated downhill and wiped out some poor guy's bush, taking my front bumper with it. Still an inch or two of ice on our streets today, and school is closed for the morning.

Tea-leaf reading difficulties notwithstanding, I would love to hear anecdotal evidence of even one single Portland Public Schools family who actually felt that weather/road conditions in their neighborhood justified a district-wide closure yesterday. Was anyone relieved that their child wasn't standing on an icy corner with traffic whizzing by? Also, while I understand the difficulty of making decisions on a school-by-school (or cluster) basis, there really is something wrong with this picture. Portland has taken its "weather wimp" label to a new level.

For those of you who think "walking in the snow for a mile" is empty rhetoric ... I REMEMBER walking to school in the snow, wearing pants and boots. And then changing to skirts and dress shoes because girls weren't permitted to wear pants to school. I REMEMBER walking home mid-day during the Columbus Day storm and watching branches blow by me on the way. Lots of rain, lots of snow, lots of ice. Those were our companions. With one car at work with Dad, walking was the option. I was especially lucky because I got to wear a worn flight suit (from a future POW - now there's a deprivation story) for sledding. And the best part - I never thought I was inconvenienced. It was how it was.

My exertions were nothing. My grandfather used his paid carfare to get to work on the dam in the Gorge on Monday morning. Then he walked home (I suppose he really hitch-hiked) in order to save the return fare to provide for his family. Times were tough.

Then there was my great-great grandmother, who came to Oregon in a covered wagon as a 5-year old. I suspect she walked through all sorts of weather.

Let's have some perspective, people. Get to school. Get to work.

For those of you who think "walking in the snow for a mile" is empty rhetoric ... I REMEMBER walking to school in the snow

I hear you. Try a couple feet of snow. I grew up in a small CA town just south of Klamath Falls. They used to chain up the buses and push snow with the bumper to go get the farmers' kids for school. (My dad was a bus driver.)
Those of use that lived in town, we walked. There were no buses for us. And the ONLY time I remember weather closing the school was when the power was out.

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