Students Attend Classes Through Temps in the Negatives

On behalf of the Powers That Be…” A greeting that sent chills down the spines of many already very cold students. On January 4th, the Western Reserve Academy community received an email from Dean of Students Wendy Skinner who confirmed WRA would be holding classes the following day despite the forecasted weather.

The Dean’s Office had included a note in the all-school email that if day students were worried about their safety driving to school, they simply needed a parent to inform the Dean’s Office. While I was concerned with the roads, they were not the main problem.

The weather forecast predicted that temperatures would be 0° F when we began school the next day. The wind was such that it was supposed to feel like -21° F. According to sources like Ohio.gov, the average adult will begin developing frostbite between 10 and 30 minutes after exposure to the weather we were supposed to endure walking in between classes. While each student has a different path that they must take to their classes, every path ends up with students spending long periods exposed to the elements.

Finding flaw in the decision to hold classes, I emailed Skinner voicing my concern. A prompt response explained that she was simply the messenger and did not have the authority to make the call to cancel classes. Therefore, I contacted Head of School, Associate Head of School, Assistant to the Head of School, Director of Studies, Dean of Academics and Dean of Students. I reminded them of the unsafe environment that would be created by frigid temperatures and chilling wind and the dangers of forcing students into this environment. Unfortunately, I received no response.

I then urged my peers to also contact the WRA administration with their own concerns. I received copies of over 50 emails that had been sent to an assortment of administrators. From freshman to seniors, from day to boarding, from students to parents, we had every kind of member of the WRA community contacting the “Powers that Be” voicing frustration with the decision to hold classes.

The “Powers that Be” offered us a cancelled morning meeting and a shuttle service to amend the problem caused by long walks across campus. While some benefited from the shuttle service, I and many others were not able to utilize the service. There was a limited number of seats on each van, so you were left to hoping that when a van showed up, there would be space. The system was not perfect, but it showed the administration was at least attempting to improve the situation for WRA students.

Despite the cancelled morning meeting, the shuttle service and the dress down day, I simply cannot believe the administration’s decision to continue with classes on January 5th. WRA was the only educational institution in northeast Ohio and almost all of Ohio to remain open despite the conditions. I myself had to make multiple walks ranging from 10 to 20 minutes long that day.

When asked whether or not he believed classes should have been cancelled, one faculty member asked, “You’ve gone through half the day so far, and has anyone died?” While I understand that no one died while walking to their class on January 5th, I believe it is a dangerous and foolish benchmark to set.

This was more than just students wanting a day off. Members of the WRA community truly believed it was in the best interest of the students to cancel classes. The weather was beyond the point of being able to remain safe by just “bundling up.” I believe this was simply a matter of WRA maintaining the bragging rights of “we don’t have snow days,” and I am disappointed in the administration’s recent decisions regarding the weather.

– Casey Semple ’18

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