It’s been an unusually long, cold and snowy winter for many across the U.S., and the “polar vortex” doesn’t appear to want to leave without a fight. But as a result of the unseasonable bitter weather, massive snow storms, biting cold and, in the south, frozen rain incidents that have been unprecedented, something else pretty usual has been occurring — repeated school closures.
Dealing with unexpected school closures for any parent with young or dependent children is never an easy task. Although many school districts have done their best to have notice go out as early as possible to allow parents and guardians to find alternative places for their children to go for the day, there’s no doubt that it’s a hardship. Daycare centers, baby sitters, relatives and friends are becoming overtaxed, or parents are squandering all of their vacation days. Still, those are the best case scenarios. For a number of parents, a school closure means missing work, unpaid time off or, in the most extreme case, the loss of a job.
That’s exactly what occurred in Chicago, when Rhiannon Broschat, the single mother of a special needs student, called in to her part time job at Whole Foods, telling her employer should couldn’t find someone to stay with her son and she wasn’t comfortable leaving him home alone. Unfortunately, that absence was her fifth “unexcused” absence in six months, and despite documentation surrounding all of her absences, she was fired for it. If you think that’s absurd, like we do, please sign and share the petition telling Whole Foods to give Broschat her job back.
Broschat told ThinkProgress that she understands why a company needs to have a policy on absences, but having an inflexible one that doesn’t take into account special circumstances is unfair to workers.”We get sick,” she said. ”Everyone gets sick. We live in Chicago, look at the weather.”
Sadly, Broschat’s case is probably not the only one of an employee forced to face some form of discipline over the unfortunate circumstance of simply not having enough resources to help with child care during a school closing. For others, they may not have received direct discipline, but did end up losing necessary wages that they no doubt relied on.
The impact of surprise winter school closings are the hardest on lower income families, which is surprising since some of the talking points used by schools to justify the closings are for their benefit as well. Here in Minnesota, where we have had four days of school closings due to morning temps of -20 degrees Fahrenheit, many online groups created for various school districts have discussed one reason for closings being that some children, especially those from lower income families or immigrant families new to this state and unaware of the climate, may not have adequate winter clothing for waiting for buses. This is especially problematic when temperatures are so low that school buses themselves are in danger of fuel freezing or other mechanical issues.
Those who were advocating for keeping the schools open, on the other hand, point out that many of those same families could be hurt by school closings. There may be lost wages from staying home, or children who use the schools for free or reduced meals may find themselves without a full meal for the day. Others argued that those students are the ones who have traditionally trailed in the education gap, and need to be in a classroom, uninterrupted.
Obviously, there is no easy answer. Do we put children in danger in order to ensure that they get a day in school and a good meal and that their parents are able to work? Do we cancel school knowing that those with resources will be fine but those with less will suffer? Is there any balance in between, such as making school open but not mandatory for a weather day, or does that exacerbate the issue by leaving some students behind while the classroom goes on without them?
It’s a rough decision, and one that will continue to affect many families, especially the poor. Unfortunately, it looks like we have a long winter to figure it out.
One thing we can all agree on, though, is that no one should be fired simply for taking care of their children. Please sign and share the petition telling Whole Foods to give Rhiannon Broschat her job back.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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