A Rare and Punishing Cold Shuts Schools Across the South

Schools across a wide swath of the South — from Texas and Tennessee to Alabama and Arkansas — announced cold-weather closures for Tuesday, affecting more than half a 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.

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. Memphis was expecting single-digit temperatures.

“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.

The districts in Washington, D.C., Montgomery, Md. and Fairfax, Va., also said they would close schools on Tuesday, as temperatures plummeted and heavy snow was expected overnight as a winter storm warning remained active into the morning.

Underscoring the extreme weather, even cities accustomed to harsh winters closed schools on Tuesday, including the districts in Chicago, Detroit and Denver.

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

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

South of Houston, the Angleton school district said it would be closed to its 6,700 students because of “potential icy weather and unsafe travel.” The temperature was expected to be in the low 30s, about 20 degrees below what is typical for January there.

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 coming out of the long weekend for Martin Luther King’s Birthday — bringing a familiar sense of chaos for families who struggled through the educational disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic just a few short years ago.

In Alabama, several districts announced they would hold 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 were also forcing 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 deliberated on Monday afternoon 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 or that local roads appeared 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.