Saturday, January 25, 2014

Closing School Decisions

OK - enough is enough!  In my many, many years in the school business, I have never had to make the decision to close school as often as I have this winter - and it's only January! I'm frequently asked how this decision is made. The first consideration is always the safety of our students. 

Acceptable school closures are for "conditions not within the control of school authorities such as severe storms, fires, health conditions, and infrastructure issues."  The two most common reasons to cancel school are for building issues (power outages, leaks, etc.)  or for weather related issues.   Power outages are easy calls; it's the weather related ones that become tricky.   The district staff drive the roads sometimes as early as 3:30 a.m. to determine whether road conditions are such that our buses can safely transport students.  




Keeping in mind that the district stretches many miles and encompasses both paved and dirt roads, it may be that the main roads are clear but the back and subdivision roads are not. 



Simultaneously, conference calls with other County superintendents and a meteorologist take place to share and discuss current and predicted weather conditions. You may see that some schools in the County do not close when we do and that's because of the varied conditions throughout this large County.  In other words, it may be snowing like crazy in our area but not in Berkley.

Because parents may need to make arrangements for their children if we do cancel school, there are times this decision can be made the prior evening when conditions are so bad that it's apparent there will be little change in the morning.  However, that's not always the case and I try to make the morning decision as early as possible to notify parents and staff.

The most difficult "call" is when there are dangerously low temperatures especially with the wind chill factor.  The threshold usually is if the temperature with wind chill factor is around minus 25 degrees below zero. These conditions are extremely dangerous for our children standing at bus stops especially when area traffic conditions create bus delays.

Once the decision is made, I notify the media stations, staff and parents through our School Messenger notification system and post the notice on our Website and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The Michigan Department of Education allows six days for these kinds of school closures; anything beyond that usually requires make-up days.  However, there have been some years when the Governor has "forgiven" more than that and/or districts can make an appeal to the MDE.  This decision often doesn't occur until the spring so I will inform parents as soon as we have an indication whether we have to make up the days.

For this current year we have already used 8 days at all schools except Oakview (9 days) and Carpenter (6 days).  And, as I said in my opening paragraph, it's only January!!