Greetings! In this post, I want to explain how the snow day or delayed opening is determined. While it is true that the Superintendent shoulders the responsibility for determining whether to close school or not, he is not alone in the process. Others involved typically include paid weather services, local road agents, the bus companies, police departments and other superintendents. Let me explain.
The day before a storm approaches, superintendents begin watching the weather and formulating thoughts about the following morning. When will storm hit: late night or early morning? Will it stop during the day and if so, around what time? Will it snow throughout the day? How much will it accumulate, and will it be mixed with sleet and freezing rain? Each of these questions must be answered in order to make an informed decision.
The morning of the storm, superintendents are usually up at the computer and/or watching the Weather Channel around 4:45 a.m. Those who contract with weather services are in contact with them early. Others watch the weather and the computer models to make determinations. At about the same time, the phone lines heat up with calls to or from the bus companies, road agents, and sometimes police departments. The same questions are reviewed from the night before, with special attention to current and anticipated road conditions. Superintendents in neighboring districts also talk to compare notes, taking into account the geographical differences of the districts. Based on the answers to the questions, the superintendent makes the determination as to whether or not it is safe to put busses and staff on the roads. Busses in particular, do not fare well in the snow because of their size and weight.
In the event that roads are dangerous and not likely to improve by 10:00 a.m., a snow day is typically called. If it appears that conditions will be improving, a two-hour delay is called. The toughest calls come when it appears to be raining, but the roads are icy. Looking outside it looks like simply rain until you step outside to find everything a sheet of ice. The other tough call is when the storm moves in during the day. Do we bring the students in? Will we be able to get them home? The timing of the storm is critical in the decision process.
Once the decision is made, typically between 5 and 5:30 a.m., the phone calls to notify radio and television stations are made. The AlertNow phone system is used to notify the entire staff, including the administrators. At the same time, the parents are notified of the decision as well. The radio and television stations post the notice on their websites and on the air.
For superintendents, the “snow day” call is a source of great anxiety. School time is valuable, but the safety of our students and staff is paramount. A wrong decision could mean injury or death to someone needlessly being on the roads in bad weather. School districts throughout the State are required to have 180 days of school, with 10 additional days built into their calendar for snow days. With these built-in days, schools are typically scheduled to end in mid-to-late June.
The snow day on Tuesday threw everyone for a loop. All of our contracts and computer maps had the storm starting early morning and snowing throughout the day. In hindsight, we could have gotten in at least a half day of school. The issue with that is that parents then have the added stress of finding childcare for students during the early release time. The fact that most of the southern tier of the State was also out made me feel somewhat better. My wife and kids loved having the day off. I spent the day in the office...
A funny thing happened to me years ago during my first year as a superintendent. It was to be my first “snow day” call. A storm moved in during the night, but conditions were improving in the morning. After speaking with the road agent and the bus company, I called the radio stations, Channel 9, and the principals, proudly announcing that we would have a two-hour delay. Little did I realize at the time that according to the school calendar, we had an early release scheduled for that day. I brought the students in, fed them lunch, had a few shortened classes, and sent them home again. I still get ribbed by my colleagues. Needless to say, I watch the school calendar closely now as well.
For the kids,