November 9, 2017
With the first snowfall recently, we are reminded that winter is on the way, despite the unseasonably warm fall that we’ve experienced to date. We’ve recently revised and distributed our ‘call’ lists to the relevant staff regarding school cancellation and delay contacts for radio, television, and other media notifications. The district has also returned to our previous service for contacting families via phone and email so that process will once again work correctly.
As we did for the first time last year, we will be continuing to use “Blizzard Bags” for some school cancellations this year. When blizzard bags are used, work will be sent home with our students that will need to be completed over the next 5 days (essentially meaning that every student will have a weekend to complete that work). Completing this work will make that day “count” for student attendance and the work completed will be graded and included in the calculation for that term’s grade. I’m grateful to all of the people who completed our end of year survey on using blizzard bags and provided useful input on how we could improve (which is being incorporated into the program this year).
This may also be a good time to remind everyone that we are a district that experiences very different weather events due to changes in elevation from one area to another. Even this recent snowfall, which coated the ground in Blandford with a couple of inches of snow but left Huntington with just a little rainfall, shows how a storm can vary depending on the location within the district. As we make decisions about school delays, cancellations, or early releases, we must take these differences into account. I may get a report from one town that they are experiencing severe icing while another town has just snow, or even rain. The decision of what to do with this information is also tempered by the reality that our buses traverse many miles of roads that are often in various states of maintenance; that our highway crews are minimal and have many miles of road to treat; and that conditions in the hilltowns can change rapidly over the course of just a few hours.
These factors, combined with the weather forecasts, make deciding what to do difficult and certainly often debated, especially if you’re fortunate enough during that particular storm to be in an area that is only mildly impacted. In the end, the decision comes down to what we determine to be in the interest of safety. There may even be those days when Gateway has no school, an early release, or a late start and is the only district to take any of these actions.
My goal in school delays and cancellations is to make a decision shortly after 5 a.m. and to get the notifications out to everyone before 5:30. When an early release is made during a school day, I also have to consider not only the weather and road conditions, but also where we are in the schedule of that particular day regarding transportation, lunches, and student activities. The goal in each situation is to let everyone know as soon as possible due to the many families who have to make childcare arrangements when the school schedule is changed. I hope each year for the easy decisions – weather forecasts that are on target, significant storms, and overall conditions that allow everyone to agree that the call was the correct one. Unfortunately those conditions are not always present and sometimes I let school out early based upon a forecast of a storm coming in at noon, only to get everyone home and not have the storm hit until late afternoon. Or cancel for a storm that starts strong at 3 a.m. and is forecast to last through noon but results in one that peters out at 6 a.m., which means we could have called a delay. Or decide on the storm that coats the higher elevation in snow and ice when the valleys remain rain. In the end, I’d rather be over cautious and miss some time in school rather than face the potential for students, staff, or families getting hurt due to accidents caused by bad weather.