White Noise

Representative of a long-term trend, the Phillips Academy administration’s initial reluctance to cancel classes in the midst of Monday’s paralyzing winter storm serves to accentuate the school’s refusal to adjust its academic calendar under mitigating circumstances. Although Mrs. Sykes merits praise for her prudent choice to exempt the community from commitments on Tuesday, the mere contemplation of following the normal schedule in such weather conditions appeared preposterous in the first place. More importantly, the individual decisions of numerous teachers to hand out “free cuts” on what was almost a regular day of school suggests that the “white noise” of the falling snow clouded the judgment of the administration and hampered communication between the different segments of the campus population. Temporarily wreaking havoc on the infrastructure of cities and states up and down the East Coast, the confluence of President’s Weekend and “the blizzard of 2003” stranded Academy students who had spent the holiday anywhere from Washington, D.C., at a Model United Nations conference to New York City at an anti-war rally. Boarders who had traveled home to visit their families suffered through hours of waiting in airports for flights that would never leave the ground and day students in the Andover area had to contend with piles of snow and ice in their driveways. Recognizing the dire nature of the situation at hand, Mrs. Sykes announced in an all-school e-mail on Monday the possibility of calling off classes slated to meet on Tuesday and thus sparked a wave of excitement and relief that would sweep across campus. In doing so, however, Mrs. Sykes lulled into a false sense of security not only those struggling to return to Andover on time, but also those students already at school. Consequently, the Monday afternoon announcement that classes and extracurricular activities would meet as regularly scheduled on Tuesday arrived as a numbing shock to those who had been banking on a day off to catch up with work or sleep after the busy long weekend. Throughout the rest of the evening, students and faculty alike expressed concern about the administration’s decision, which many instructors implicitly questioned by giving out “free cuts” in the knowledge that more than half of their sections – day students and stranded boarders – would fail to attend class the next day. Furthermore, the community’s apparently negative reaction to Mrs. Sykes’s evening proclamation drew support from previous examples of what many students deem scheduling faux pas: holding regular classes on September 11, 2002; choosing not to observe certain federal holidays; and granting a day off on Yom Kippur but not on Good Friday. Such a harsh reality testifies to the bewildering indisposition of the PA administration to incorporating certain breaks into its set schedule. Despite the fact that the cancellation of classes and activities eventually arrived later that night out of necessity, the community remained disappointed that the administration had to wait until 10:00 p.m. to reach a final verdict on what should have been a simple case. But, for those few, disheartening hours last Monday night, when the falling snow seemed to obscure the light of reason from the eyes and minds of the Academy’s administrators, the truth about the school’s ability to handle changes to its predetermined course appeared painfully obvious.