Environment

Some Athens families face lack of heat and supervision for children on snow days

Photo illustration by Kylie Hulver
Written by Chuck Greenlee

Cold weather not only brings snow days but also hard times for families in Athens County.

Although Athens City Schools has not experienced any school cancellations to date, there is a list of standards in place for school to be called off.

“School may be called off for a variety of weather conditions,” said Tom Gibbs, superintendent of the Athens City School District. “The three most common in our area are flooding, icy or snowy roads and extremely low temperatures.”

Flooding is an issue specific to certain areas of the the district where roads become impassable and students can not be transported safely. “Cold days” are also possible but not common.

“If we have sustained temperatures, including windchill, below negative 10 degrees or lower, we may call a delay or cancel school,” Gibbs said. There have been several instances in the past two academic years when that occurred.

Time is another factor when determining whether to cancel.

“Our first buses leave at 6:15 a.m., so a decision has to be made early in the morning,” Gibbs said.

It may sound simple, but Gibbs prefers to make a decision the night before. It’s not always possible, though. For parents, this can cause a problem. Athens parent Paula Linscott said that when school is called off, “scramble” is the name of the game.

“We scramble in the morning,” said Linscott, who works as a student success adviser in Ohio University’s Scripps School of Communication. Linscott needs to work to find a babysitter for her kids, ages 9 and 7. “My husband and I think about which of our friends aren’t busy that day. Our kids’ grandparents are also an option sometimes.”

On days that school is still in session despite bad weather, Linscott does not worry. She wants her kids to be in school as much as possible because the days they aren’t there, they’re missing out on something.

Students don’t have a problem with classes being canceled.

“Normally I find out the night before or the morning of,” Aaron Barte, a junior at Athens High School, said. “I’ll usually just play video games all day.”

For other kids, though, no school causes a big problem. Athens County was rated as the poorest county in Ohio according to a 2015 state report, so when school is canceled, many families face hard choices.

“When school is called off, there are families who suffer from it,” Linscott said. “There are kids whose only meal of the day is the lunch they get at school, and when school is canceled, they are hungry that entire day.”

Problems go beyond hunger. Shirley Fox runs Ray of Hope out of her home in Athens County, and when school is canceled, she sees families struggle.

Fox said parents still have to go to work even when school is off for the day. Some of these families lack heat and someone to watch the children. Parents are forced to leave these kids at home without supervision, heat or meals.

“Kids are hungry in this area,” Fox said. “The schools do the best they can to feed the kids, they really do. During the winter, a lot of kids do go without heat too.”

There isn’t much for the kids to do to stay out of the cold.

“The government does their best to help families make ends meet to pay for heat,” Fox said. “If the government isn’t enough, (parents) turn to their families for money to help them get through the month.”

About the author

Chuck Greenlee

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