The rains of the past days brought by Tropical Storm “Gorio” carried with them the expected inconveniences such as flooding and traffic congestion, and also the recurring question of whether classes should be suspended — or not.
Class suspensions are tricky business, naturally welcomed by students but along the line of damned if you do, damned if you don’t for government and school authorities. Students will wake up to news of no classes and gleefully go back to sleep. School officials and teachers will have to deal with another lost school day, especially if there have been one too many, rendering the academic calendar askew. Parents will naturally fume at having to see off their children in driving rain, or at seeing them idle at home (or in the malls) later when the sun perversely trumps the forecast of gloomy weather.
The delicate task of deciding whether to suspend classes or not in times of bad weather now lies with the local government unit executive, usually the mayor. The weather bureau will track a storm, assign it a signal, and keep the general public informed. But it is the town or city mayor who will say the word, although school officials may declare a suspension if the decision were left to them.
Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, the person in charge in the absence of the mayor who was overseas, drew more flak than she bargained for last Thursday when she issued a late announcement of class suspension after wrestling with indecision earlier in the day. She also provoked harried parents into posting nasty comments on social media by launching into badly worded explanations.
The long and short of it was that while many other mayors in Metro Manila had early on suspended classes on all levels on July 27, apparently on the basis of the previous days’ heavy rains, Belmonte went in a different direction.
At 4:21 a.m. she posted a message on Facebook stating that classes would proceed as usual. She had discussed the matter with Michael Marasigan, the acting chief of QC’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, and noted Pagasa’s announcement that the metropolis would experience light and moderate rain.
“It was a challenge for us not to be swayed by the bandwagon effect,” she said provocatively, and pointed out the “adverse effect” of students missing school days.
Quite expectedly a minor tempest erupted online, in which the vice mayor was called insensitive and her decision out of touch and potentially dangerous.
“As a teacher and mother, I put a premium on education, but should we sacrifice health for education?” someone said.
“Didn’t she realize that there might be a science behind the bandwagon?” asked another.
Yet another said she should have taken the “better safe than sorry” stance.
It turned out that at 11 a.m. the city government announced the suspension of classes on all levels. But as has happened during storms past and in other cities and towns, it was too late, particularly infuriating mothers of young children: Many students were on their way to school or were in fact already there, and now had to negotiate their way back through off-and-on downpours and flooded streets.
“With the criticism, what I see are the feelings of a mother who is worried for the safety and health of her child,” a contrite Belmonte later told the Inquirer in an interview. “As a mother myself, that should also have been the first thing in my mind.”
She said that she “truly deserved” the negative reactions, that she may have been too dependent on the weather bureau, but that she was taking “full responsibility” for the mess.
The vice mayor has clear-cut lessons to learn from this comeuppance: In her neck of the woods, where an annoying number of street diggings contribute to — and at times actually cause — heavy traffic and sudden, frightening floods, bad weather is always bad news.
When it has been raining buckets for two days, it would be good sense to consider the plight of schoolchildren forced to slosh their way to classes. (Not least: In the wild and woolly alleyways of social media, someone with her political life still ahead of her and with an eye to developing a solid base would be wise to mind her language.)
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