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This winter has been far more grueling than the ones in the recent past. More snow storms, and certainly more stretches of deep freeze, have made the decision of opening or closing school a problem. Despite kids, and often parents, thinking snow days are arbitrarily decided and take away a day of schooling, the truth is far different. The state has a minimum amount of days that schools are to remain open for the year, and in the wintery states a few snow days are allotted. But when we get the kind of weather that involves a snow day or two each week for over a month, as we’ve had throughout the first part of the year in the Northeast, then you have to make up the time somewhere. That means a longer school year, or taking away a few of the superfluous holidays like President’s Day.
So how does a superintendent of a school district make this decision? Dr. Joseph Roy is the superintendent of schools for the Bethlehem Area School District in Pennsylvania. He speaks with his daughter for a Time magazine piece wherein he lays out the typical process for deciding to close a school. Of course, it’s obvious that the first thing is to start watching the weather and looking at how it’s going to affect the schools. But there’s also the timing factor where it may be clear in the morning, but you know 14 inches will drop throughout the day.
It’s a long and arduous process, and while not all superintendents are as dedicated as Dr. Roy, who gets up at 4 AM to drive the roads to check how clear they are, the decision typically has to be made at around 5am. That means an early day, which can often stretch well over 12 hours. And no matter what decision is made, someone will be mad. Dr. Roy talks about how much he thinks of the parents and how a snow day alters their day.
”[I]f you make decisions to close or even have a 2-hour delay too lightly and too quickly, you really impact families because not everyone has child care. Some parents can’t go to work when we close and then they can get in trouble with their jobs. So I feel the stress of knowing the impact on families.”
As a child I remember waking up at six and looking outside to see a foot of snow, and excited I’d turn on channel 6 to watch the local school crawl that told you what was for lunch, which sports were traveling where, homework assignments for each class, and best of all, the snow day announcement. Today Twitter is used in conjunction with the automatic phone call system to alert families of a snow day. So if you get that tweet from your school superintendent, or the phone call early in the morning, just know that the person who made that decision didn’t do it on a whim so they could hit the slopes for the day. Hours of deliberation were involved while everyone else slept in order to make the best decision for the safety of the children who attend school in the district.