Calling a 'snow day' is no picnic

By Dr. Marci Larsen, Superintendent | Feb 01, 2012

On a snowy morning a number of years ago, not long after I first became a superintendent, I received an email asking who was the idiot who canceled school.

I was reminded of that incident a few weeks ago, the morning after Martin Luther King Day, when the snow started falling early in the morning and the weather forecasts were predicting a record storm was on the way.

We decided to cancel school that morning, despite the fact that most of the roads were still passable. But as the snow continued into the afternoon and the road conditions grew worse, it became obvious that we had made the right call. We were eventually out for four straight days.

Deciding to cancel school is not an easy or fun thing to do. I am very much aware that my decision has a significant impact on thousands of families, such as those who suddenly must make arrangements for child care. But, the safety of the students is the most important thing.

I have to keep in mind the small children who must stand in the cold at a bus stop, the students who will make their way to school on slippery sidewalks, and the young high school drivers who will pilot the family sedan to school over icy streets.

I also must keep in mind whether the roads are safe for our school bus drivers to transport students and for our staff members going to work.

The process of deciding what to do about school begins in the early morning while most of us are still asleep. A crew of experts from our transportation department travel on streets that the school buses use and pay particular attention to places where there are hills or where road conditions are typically bad.

After notes are compared, the head of that department then calls to tell me what the roads are like, what the weather forecast predicts will happen and what the neighboring school districts are doing.

I also get a recommendation whether school should be held on schedule, delayed or canceled.

We try to make our decision before 5 a.m. because our bus drivers start showing up for work not long afterwards to begin their routes picking up high school students.

Once the decision has been made, we then get the word out via the radio and television stations, post something on our website and send parents an email.

With that deadline in mind, my nightmare scenario is always the case where the roads are fine at 5 a.m. and then turn treacherous by the time students start going to school two hours later. Because we live in the unpredictable convergence zone, there’s also the chance that the opposite will happen, that the forecasts will be wrong and promised snow will never arrive.

Sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes the roads may appear to be fine in one part of the school district, but are horrible in another. But, we always strive for the decision that is safe.

We can never lose sight that we are responsible for more than 14,000 of somebody else’s children, who must to be able to travel to school and home again as safely as possible.
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