Are Cold Days Too Subjective?

The night before a rumored cold day, I always hope and anxiously wait for news of school being canceled. My younger brother wears his pajamas inside out and puts a spoon in the fridge. It is difficult to predict what decision the superintendent will come to, so we leave it up to fate and silly superstitions. Though school districts have set closing policy to include some objective measures, mother nature is a complex mix of factors, and adding human nature to the equation sets up a very subjective and unpredictable scenario.

In order to decide whether to close school or not, the district considers four factors: the forecast, transportation, school facilities, and surrounding districts. On the surface, these factors seem like they would result in an objective decision; but instead, the decision actually becomes complicated and subjective as the factors are judged differently by each person.

On January 8th and 9th, Milwaukee Public Schools were closed. As one of the largest neighboring districts, the closing of MPS could have easily influenced the decision for Elmbrook Schools. Weighing the significance of other school closings lies primarily in the eyes of the decision maker, however public opinion also influence the decision, seeing as the media reports early closing decisions.

For school to be in session, the district says that school facilities should be functioning 100 percent to ensure the students’ safety throughout the day. But on January 7th, a day with wind chill approaching 28 degrees below zero, there was no heat in parts of Wisconsin Hills Middle School. Depending on the superintendent, that could have been enough to close school.

Of all the deciding factors, the weather forecast is the most objective. According to the Elmbrook Schools website, “In cold weather only decisions (e.g. no snow or other conditions), we use a sustained wind chill warning (-35 degrees below) as an approximate threshold.” This criteria acts as a straight forward meter of how cold is cold enough.

While Elmbrook’s approach may be slightly more impartial than neighboring districts, the decision making process is still susceptible to subjectivity. And maybe it always will be. No matter how objective the measures and how district leaders logically approach the decision, calling cold days will always feel too biased. I suppose my brother will have to wear his pajamas inside out and I will have to keep on wishing the next time a possible cold day comes around.