Wake-up call - It's cold outside

February 20, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND


So the phone rings at 4:30 in the morning, and it's a recording from the Washington County Board of Education telling you that public schools will be closed - last Wednesday.

Is that a problem?

I don't know, I never really keep that close a track, so it might be interesting to know that there wasn't any school one day in early February. But the 4:30 a.m. part could be a sticking point.

And parents were not amused.

As a result, the school board has discontinued using the AlertNow Rapid Communications Service to advise parents that schools will be closed on account of the weather.


First of all, I'm not sure how "rapid" it is, if it takes the automated system six days to report a closing. Second, this mechanism seems to have a mind of its own, which is frightening. It might decide it wants to call your house and ask for a date.

As one parent described the experience, "... this morning somewhere between 4 and 5 a.m., the phone rings. I am fumbling for the phone, a glass of water and my box of tissues get knocked off the nightstand, my tissues are all wet and on the other end of the phone is some bozo from the school system telling me that "today, Wednesday, Feb. 7 WCPS schools are closed. Vote Ober-Wagner."

Actually, I made up the Ober-Wagner, but you get the drift.

Part of me thinks these parents asked for it. I mean, no way in the world would I ever give the Washington County Public Schools System my home phone number. That's just asking for trouble. Jeepers. Your home phone number? What were you thinking? Why don't you just give them the PIN number to your ATM card while you're at it?

Today it's school closings, tomorrow it's "This is Washington County schools, and if your daughter sends one more text message during class, we'll have your kneecaps broken."

School officials say they can live without AlertLater, because people can find out about school closings in other ways. Like looking out the window, for one thing.

Although that wouldn't help with this Tri-State trend of delaying school if it's cold. We never got that treatment when I was a kid. Mainly, because we had heard of these things I like to call "coats."

But now cold weather is reason for a two-hour delay. Like if it's 2 degrees at 7 a.m. it's going to be 65 by 9? No, it's going to be 4 degrees.

I asked my brother, who lives way up at the top of New York state, if schools there ever closed simply due to cold weather.

"Sometimes, if it hits 40 below."

"Out of concern for the kids?"

"No, because that's the point where diesel fuel turns to jelly."

Personally, I kind of like the board's current "Let's Keep Them Guessing" strategy, where you go to having school to a two-hour delay to not having school in the time it takes to flunk a burnout.

I like it because it's what people deserve. If school is canceled the night before and the storm never materializes, you get the chorus of "I can't believe they canceled school!" As school-cancellation phrases go, this is tied for first along with "I can't believe they didn't cancel school!"

People are lucky I'm not in charge, is all I have to say.

No. 1. I would require that all school desks would fold out into sleeper-sofas and if there were any question about the weather the following day, the little rugrats would just stay in school all night.

And No. 2, I can assure you, I would take the AlertNow automated telephone system and get aggressively stupid with it. You would be wishing that you only got one call at 4:30 in the morning, because I'd have it calling at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3:12 ...

"Greetings, this is Washington County Schools. Today is Feb. 19 and schools will be open today."

"Greetings, this is Washington County Schools. Today is Feb. 19 and things still look good for this morning."

"Greetings, this is Washington County Schools. Storm clouds developing over Milwaukee. We will keep you posted."

"Greetings, this is Washington County Schools. It is drizzling in New Zealand."

Then again, I can't even program my own cell phone to speed dial, so who am I kidding?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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