Snow days and deciding whether to close schools

The Sunday weather in the Washington area has caused icy conditions on area roads and sidewalks. All activities in Fairfax County public schools or on school grounds scheduled for 1 p.m. or later today are canceled (Condition 8).

Today’s Washington Post has a good article describing how school transportation directors decide whether to delay or close schools on snowy days.

As part of their decision-making process, they check with their counterparts in other school systems. Tom Watkins, director of transportation for Montgomery County indicated that while everyone does what’s best for their districts, no one wants to be “the lone school system that erred and stayed open when it should have closed, or vice versa.”

Watkins reported a noticeable change in the public mood about snow decisions. “As recently as the 1980s, he said, buses carried chains, because the mindset was to forge ahead in snow.”

“There’s just no tolerance to do that these days,” he said.

Snow day update

Here are the weather-related delays and closings for today . Fairfax and seven other school systems first announced two-hour delays, then switched to closing the schools. Despite these last-minute changes of plans, Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang praised the decisions made today by the local authorities: Congratulations, D.C.: We conquered a commute snowstorm.

Schools made the right calls. Based on the forecast and current conditions, they delayed and/or closed, keeping school buses, parents, and young drivers off snow-covered neighborhood and secondary roads.

Nutrition Advisory Committee updates advice

The Executive Summary of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says that its advice is for Americans ages 2 years and older. “The Committee integrated its findings and conclusions into several key themes and articulated specific recommendations for how the report’s findings can be put into action at the individual, community, and population levels.”

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently submitted its recommendations to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) will consider this report, along with input from other federal agencies and comments from the public as they develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015, to be released later this year.

The public is encouraged to view the independent advisory group’s report and provide written comments at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov for a period of 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. The public will also have an opportunity to offer oral comments at a public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 24, 2015. Those interested in providing oral comments at the March 24, 2015, public meeting can register at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Capacity is limited, so participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans was first published in 1980. Beginning in 1990, Congress mandated that HHS and USDA release a new edition at least every five years. The Dietary Guidelines contain the latest, science-based nutrition recommendations for the general public with the goal of preventing disease and promoting healthy, active lifestyles. It is written for and used primarily by nutrition and health professionals, policy makers and educators, and is the foundation for federal nutrition efforts, including education initiatives and food assistance programs.

The value of bake sales

Don’t take away our kids’ cookies and cupcakes: Bake sales have value. Petula Dvorak cites the lessons children can learn from a bake sale.

Let each school decide what can be sold at bake sales

Senator J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) says that bake sales should be left to the discretion of local school boards. He supports legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to direct the state Board of Education to allow some waivers to the federal guidelines on which foods are allowed to be sold at bake sales during school hours.

I support this legislation. I also hope that if local school boards are given more discretion on this, they would allow each individual school to make its own decision.

It is an overreach for the federal government to dictate rules about bake sales in schools. Granted, there is concern about which foods are healthier and which are less healthy. However, the federal government is not omniscient in knowing what is best for children (or adults). The new scientific consensus overturning previous advice on subjects such as fat and cholesterol was mentioned in an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times. “Since the very first nutritional guidelines to restrict saturated fat and cholesterol were released by the American Heart Association in 1961, Americans have been the subjects of a vast, uncontrolled diet experiment with disastrous consequences,” Nina Teicholz wrote. “We have to start looking more skeptically at epidemiological studies and rethinking nutrition policy from the ground up.”

However, even if there is a consensus about the relative health benefits of certain snack items, it is not the business of government to make decisions for local parents and schools. A donut is not a cigarette. The government has no business trying to ban donuts in schools.

Let schools be in charge of their own bake sales. The federal government, the state government, and even the local school boards should refrain from trying to micromanage the operation of bake sales in schools.

Cold weather has presented challenges to bus drivers

The Fairfax Times reports on the difficulties faced by school bus drivers in Fairfax on cold days.

The school system has heat rails at some of its bus lots. Buses can plug into these and heat their engines over night, keeping the oil and fuel warm and making the buses easier to start in the mornings. But the school system only has enough heat rails to serve about 500 buses each night, less than a third of the fleet.

Also, “when winter weather threatens, the school system also calls in its bus drivers 30 minutes early. Drivers arrive at their buses between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. to get their vehicles started.”

 

Slippery roads this morning

A station wagon took about five or ten minutes to spin its wheels in the snow on the street in front of my house this morning attempting to drive north. The driver inched ahead slowly, then went backwards, then finally made it to the flat part of the road. I think it would have been safer for Fairfax County Public Schools to have a delayed  opening this morning.

Success for All improves reading skills

Social Programs That Work, a New York Times op-ed by Ron Haskins, reports that evaluations “typically find that around 75 percent  of programs or practices that are intended to help people do better at school or at work have little or no effect.”  He applauds the Obama administration’s efforts to use evidence to improve social programs.

Haskins cites Success for All as an example of a program that works.

Success for All, a comprehensive schoolwide reform program, primarily for high-poverty elementary schools, emphasized early detection and prevention of reading problems before they become serious. Students of various ages who are at the same performance level are grouped together and receive daily, 90-minute reading classes, as well as one-on-one tutoring and cooperative learning activities. We know it works because a study that randomly assigned 41 schools across 11 states to an experimental or control group found improved reading skills, including comprehension in students in the experimental group.

Herrity to seek federal reimbursement for unaccompanied minors from Central America

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement says that there are 1,131 unaccompanied minors from Central America living in Fairfax County, 417 in Prince William County, and 227 in Loudoun County, according to a Washington Post article.

Fairfax County supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said that Fairfax County would spend more than $14 million to educate these children if they all enroll in school, based on a per-pupil cost of $14,755 for each student served by the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program. Currently ESOL serves over 36,000 students.

“Herrity said he expects to request funding from the federal government after he knows what the costs are,” the Post reports.

“We’ll look at what avenue or avenues there are for us and hopefully make a decision to seek reimbursement,” Herrity said. “It really is a federal responsibility, and Fairfax County’s being hit pretty heavily.”

When I think of the budgetary constraints that have made school reforms in Fairfax so difficult to achieve over the past two decades, as well as the number of times that pay raises were put on hold, it is pretty discouraging to see that Fairfax is being burdened with such large costs. I agree that the federal government should provide some reimbursement.

Fairfax County crossing guards assist in traffic direction

Kate Yanchulis reports that Fairfax County crossing guards receive expanded training which adds a step to their routine. “After halting traffic to allow children to cross, a crossing guard can determine whether they should allow cars in or out of the school parking lot before letting traffic resume normally.”

The police department noticed that the crossing guards had been attempting to provide traffic direction when cars crowded school drop-off and pick-up lines. So the department decided to provide extra training so that they would be qualified to provide traffic direction.

The article notes that in 1969, nearly 50 percent of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school. “Forty years later, the total dropped to 13 percent, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Transportation survey.”