Matt Ingoglia: When snow day dismissals are disasters

Most of us remember the legendary Snowpocalypse that hammered the District a year ago. The historic one-two punch of blizzards lived up to its nickname, leaving impassable roads, shuttered Metro stations and days of canceled classes in its wake. For those without a Dunkin’ Donuts in their basement, it was truly a harrowing experience.

This winter seems tame by comparison. From dustings to underwhelming wintry mixes, the storms this season have been more of a nuisance than anything. That is, except for the event last Wednesday.

All morning, we heard warnings of a major storm on track to pound the District just in time for the evening commute. Dire projections abounded as forecasters predicted up to 8 inches of snow across the region by midnight.

Concerned for its employees’ safety, the federal government announced an early closing at 11 a.m. Nearly every university in the area followed suit. This is not an exaggeration: American, Catholic, Gallaudet, Georgetown, Maryland, Marymount, Towson and Trinity universities all announced early closings around lunchtime.

Given the forecasts, these calls made perfect sense. Although closing times varied from school to school, the intent was the same: to ensure anyone on campus could get home safely, and prevent evening students from embarking on a hazardous commute into the city.

Unfortunately, our University chose the opposite path. While others sent staff home hours earlier, administrators here were still discussing how to respond, if at all. Seemingly fearful of overreacting, officials waited until just after 3:30 p.m. to announce the cancelation of all classes after 4:30 p.m. Had any of them looked out a window, they would have seen the freezing rain already hitting the sidewalks and streets.

It was dangerous and irresponsible for GW to wait so long in making this decision. Announcing a closure an hour in advance would be fine if everyone lived within walking distance of campus, but this is simply not the case. The call came too late for the commuting students and staff already on campus, many of whom saw their drives home stretch late into the night. Nevermind the public transit users; they got to enjoy the gridlock from aboard a bus or train, assuming Metro showed up on time and didn’t leave them stranded out in the elements.

The foot-dragging also imperiled those who commute to campus for afternoon or night engagements. This is most common among seniors and grad students, who tend to live farther away and hold jobs that force them to take evening classes. An hour’s notice is simply not long enough, unless the University expects them to check their e-mail while driving in a storm.

I realize snow closures are logistical nightmares for any school. But would it be less of a nightmare if a professor or student got in an accident on the ride home? Since the University has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its students and employees, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

Matt Ingoglia, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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