Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Making the call: How weather-related school closings are decided

Mother Nature recently offered a gentle reminder that winter weather will soon be on its way.  Like many of my superintendent colleagues, I dread when snow is in the forecast because deciding whether to open or close school due to a weather-related event is often difficult ‒ but a fact of life in the northeast.

With that in mind, I wanted to speak to the process used to determine a snow day before Old Man Winter officially arrives. On mornings when winter weather is forecast, I am up well before the break of dawn monitoring local weather channels for information. Throughout those early hours, I consult primarily with our maintenance and transportation staff, but also with city road crews and local law enforcement. I remain in frequent contact with our district’s lead bus driver about road conditions to find out if our buses will be able to navigate the city streets. Watervliet is a small city that spans approximately 1.5 square miles. Unlike most other school districts in our region that are geographically expansive, our buses do not have to travel long distances or varying terrain to transport students safely to school.

Next, I take into account the condition of our facilities by checking with our maintenance crew to find out if they will be able to remove snow from the parking lots and have all walkways cleared in time to open school on our regular schedule, or whether they think a delay is warranted. I also speak with superintendents from neighboring districts for their input; but ultimately, I am responsible for making a final decision about closing our schools or calling for a delay.

Those who know me best, know that my priority is to open school whenever possible because our students are best served academically and socially when they are in school. Our schools serve a majority of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, meaning that when school is in session, our students are guaranteed two meals a day – this also factors into my decision making.

I understand that the decision to open or close school has an impact on families as changes in the schedule can present childcare challenges for working parents. Once children are in school, parents leave for work. If weather conditions worsen during the day, it’s likely that I will cancel after-school activities, but I will refrain from an early dismissal because sending students, especially young ones, to unsupervised bus stops and homes with no adult supervision would be unsafe.

I recognize that there is no perfect decision when winter weather is involved. In the years I have served as superintendent, I know that my decision – no matter what it has been – has not pleased everyone. As a parent or guardian, if you do not feel that it is safe for your child to travel to school, whether walking or riding the bus, I encourage you to use your own best judgment. If you decide it is best to keep your child home, I respect that decision.

I will seldom, if ever, make the decision to delay or close school the day or the night before a snow event is predicted because weather forecasts can be hit or miss. Case in point, I remember several years ago when local meteorologists predicted our area would be hit by a storm with significant snowfall. Based on the forecast, most district leaders in our area decided to close school before the first flakes ever hit the ground, but the big storm never materialized. Although parents were highly critical of the school leaders who made that call, students and staff were thrilled to have the day off!

That said, the decision to close or delay school will typically be made no later than 5:30 a.m. to provide parents, students and staff adequate time to prepare. School closings and delays are communicated through a number of channels, including the district website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Families can also expect to receive notification by phone, text and email through the district’s One Call Now messaging system. School closing and delay information is also made available on local media, including radio and television stations.

Coats for the Community

Speaking of cold weather, our district is again collecting Coats for the Community. If you have gently used, clean adult or children’s coats to donate, please drop them off to the district office by Monday, Nov. 14. The coats will be delivered to the Watervliet Civic Center for distribution. Call us in the district office at 629-3201, if you have any questions. Your generosity is appreciated!