Happy New Year! I hope that your new year is off to a wonderful start.
This time of year, I am usually asked at least three or four times, “How do you decide to call a 'snow day' or delay the start of school due to inclement weather?” This is a really great question. I sometimes ask the question back, “How do you think the process is done?” And, I typically get a response that goes, “You wake up, look out the window, see snow, make a call and go back to bed.”
Actually, the process takes place months prior to poor weather even arriving. The district and various news media (radio, TV, print media, social media, etc.) review phone numbers, passwords, and contact information so that they can be officially informed of cancelations and delays. Internally, alternative schedules and calendars are created to make adjustments — you may know that students have to be in school for a specific number of hours per year; additional hours are built into the school calendar to account for “snow days” and delays so that we are always over the minimum required academic hours of instruction regardless of whether we have “snow days” or not during the course of the school year. In addition, superintendents and transportation directors from across the region exchange cell phone numbers to coordinate in the event of an inclement weather day or other emergency.
Moving closer to the actual “snow day,” we typically start to follow approaching bad weather fronts a couple days in advance of a potential school closing or school delay forecast. If the potential is high, we work with building principals, teachers, and athletic directors to start making contingency plans should the weather result in a school closing or delay. These school closings and delays typically result in after-school academic and athletic programs being adjusted or canceled as well. However, just because the weather is terrible at 6:00 a.m. does not necessarily mean those same conditions exist at 4:00 p.m.
Unfortunately, it seems that most of our major weather events occur late evening or early morning — or at least it feels that way. Obviously, student safety is the major concern; so the “timing” of the weather event can be just as important of a decision variable as the actual weather hitting the ground. For example, two inches of snow at 11:00 a.m. would most likely not impact the school day; however, two inches of snow at 4:30 a.m. may very well result in a delay or closure. In addition to timing, the “type” of snow plays a role as well — big, wet snowy flakes at 32 degrees is not as bad as a layer of ice with just a light coating of small icy flakes at 20 degrees.
On the day (most likely late evening or very early morning) of the weather event, starting around 3:30 a.m. calls and text messages begin between the school district and the Ohio Department Transportation, the City Transportation, the Townships Transportation, and other school districts while online weather radars are being checked. Buildings & Grounds personnel, transportation directors and some superintendents begin to drive the roads that are the most notorious on those inclement weather days to check each road’s current status and to obtain information regarding the future status of the road. Information is shared both internally and externally — what is happening just west or just south of here. Questions are asked based upon the information we have at the time a decision is needed: “Can a school bus make it down/up this hill and around the curve safely?” “Can a 16-year-old new driver successfully navigate this road safely in these types of conditions?” Again, student safety is the main concern. At that point, a decision is made, notifications are made to delay, to close, or to go on time; if closing or delayed, contingency plans are implemented. Sometimes we get the decision right and sometimes we get it wrong — but we make the best decision we can with the information we have from multiple sources at the time we have to make the decision. You may recall that old adage, “If you don’t like the weather in Ohio, just wait ten minutes.”
You may do as I do, fondly reminisce about those occasional “snow days” sledding with your friends and enjoying the moment of just being a kid. We encourage our students to “shovel a neighbor’s sidewalk and/or driveway” if they happen to get a “snow day,” before they go out sledding.
As always, I wish you the best for 2017.