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A Rare and Punishing Cold Shuts Schools Across the South

U.S.A Rare and Punishing Cold Shuts Schools Across the South

Because of severe cold weather, schools across a wide swath of the South — from Texas and Tennessee to Alabama and Arkansas — were closed on Tuesday, affecting about one million children in a region known for its mild winters.

The Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth school districts, serving a total of over 400,000 students, were shuttered, as were schools serving hundreds of thousands of students in and around Atlanta.

Several Southern school systems said they would remain closed on Wednesday as well, including the Memphis-Shelby County School district in Tennessee, that state’s largest, with 106,000 students. Temperatures in Memphis dipped into the single digits Tuesday morning.

“I think the decision to close schools is wise when you consider overall safety of kiddos who have to wait outside for transportation, or even just parents driving to school,” said Alli Echlin, 41, mother of a second grader at Libertas, a charter school in Memphis.

School systems in Washington, D.C., Montgomery, Md., and Fairfax, Va., were closed on Tuesday as temperatures plummeted and snow fell overnight and into the morning.

Even some northern cities that are accustomed to harsh winters closed their schools on Tuesday, including the districts in Chicago, Detroit and Denver.

But the closures across the Sun Belt were the most out of the ordinary.

“We’re not built for this,” said Hollie Plemons, a Fort Worth parent whose 10-year-old and 16-year-old were home on Tuesday.

The Angleton school district, with 6,700 students south of Houston, said it was closed because of “potential icy weather and unsafe travel.” The temperature there was in the low 20s Tuesday morning, about 30 degrees below what is typical for this time of year.

And the tiny two-school district in Three Rivers, Texas, south of San Antonio, said it had canceled Tuesday classes, athletics and a school board meeting because of freezing temperatures, precipitation and a number of reported car accidents.

The closures scrambled work and child care plans for many parents after the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend — bringing a familiar sense of chaos for families who had struggled through the educational disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Georgia and Alabama, several districts held classes remotely on Tuesday, a practice that has grown in prevalence since the pandemic introduced it to tens of millions of households.

Snowy weather and frigid temperatures forced colleges to close throughout the South. Texas A&M University’s flagship campus in College Station canceled classes Tuesday, as did the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and Tennessee Tech University east of Nashville.

As school officials across the region deliberated on Monday afternoon about whether to open buildings the following morning, parents on social media urged them to make a decision quickly, sometimes writing that children lacked appropriate clothing for the bitter weather or that local roads seemed unsafe.

“A working single parent with four kids,” one Houston mother commented, “needs to plan.”

Jessica Jaglois, Colbi Edmonds, Michael Corkery and John Yoon contributed reporting.

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