Failure to cancel during cold weather advisories endangers students

Extreme cold weather swept across the Midwest last week, prompting concerns about safety. Photo courtesy Dan Hamill

Will Patterson

The Midwest was struck with alarmingly cold weather on Jan. 30. Schools, businesses and even the postal service experienced closures and delays. Despite the widespread concern, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) only canceled classes through noon.

The sudden drop in temperature was spurred by the polar vortex. The resulting conditions prompted warnings from weather services. Prolonged exposure to the subzero temperatures would cause frostbite.

UNO student Gabriel Escalera is among the students who did not make it to class last Wednesday due to the weather.

Escalera is a nontraditional student with children. His children did not have school, but he had afternoon classes. Unable to get a babysitter under such short notice, he was forced to miss class.

“I was telling [my professor] the night before ‘you know, it’s going to be tough with me in this situation,’” Escalera said.

For a school that boasts opportunities for nontraditional students, the decision appears to have been short sighted. If Omaha schools are closing due to the weather, it can be assumed that many of UNO’s nontraditional students will not make it to class.

Escalera said that this incident has occurred about twice since he has attended UNO. He had family members who would have been willing to watch his children, but they did not feel like they could safely drive due to the weather.

The Gateway reported the creation of an online petition that racked up thousands of supporters in a brief period. UNO student Taylor Partusch made the petition due to concerns about the dangerous weather conditions.

After gaining significant traction, Partusch sent the petition to UNO and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold. Partusch said that Gold forwarded the petition to the committee responsible for weather-related cancellations.

UNO was not alone in the realm on online activism. Universities across the Midwest had petitions demanding school be canceled. Creighton University’s student body had its own petition with similar traction.

The failure to cancel classes for the entire day was a mistake on the university’s part. The possibility of injury to students is too great. Even students who may want to attend—such as Escalera—must put their children’s well being before their education.

In the future, the university should take cold weather conditions more seriously. The lack of snow makes it logistically easier for the campus to function, but that does not necessarily make it safe.