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Grissom column: You can make up a day, but not a life

The woolly worms and the presence of “spoon shapes” in persimmon seeds indicate that the new year will bring more snow and ice than usual to our area. Whether one believes these tales or not, January always brings thoughts of inclement weather and school closings to school leaders.
Many people have already begun asking questions about school closings for snow and ice. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to remind everyone about how decisions are made in the school system when inclement weather arrives.
There is often much excitement among children and adults at the possibility of snow beautifully falling on our community. We imagine sleigh rides, snowmen, crackling fires, toasted marshmallows and possibly a day off from school and work.
But for school administrators, the forecast for bad weather means facing one of the most difficult decisions that a school system makes each year: whether to close, delay, or keep schools open during inclement weather. Whatever school administrators decide, we inevitably receive numerous calls challenging our assessment. I hope this article will provide a better understanding of the complex process involved and the amount of time and information used in making this decision.
Rowan-Salisbury School buses begin running at 5:15 each morning,. If a cancellation or delay of school is to be made, the decision must be made by 4:45 a.m. in order to inform our bus drivers before they leave home to begin their daily bus route.
The RSSS assistant superintendent of operations, the director of transportation and four school bus mechanics begin driving around county roads as early as 4 a.m. This crew checks identified roads in each area of the county that have a history of freezing quickly because of exposure to colder temperatures.
In addition to traveling the roads, this crew remains in contact with the National Weather Service, N.C. Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol, Emergency Services, other schools systems and weather reports from across the state.
It is important to note that Rowan County is a large county, and one area of the county could be experiencing precipitation while other parts of the county are not.
After as much information as possible is collected, system-level administrators make a decision on the collective findings. This decision is not a “one person” decision, nor is it taken lightly. As soon as the decision is made, it is communicated to local and regional media outlets and other administrators.
We now have Connect-ED, a communications system that allows us to contact every staff member and every student’s home to share our decision. Within 15 minutes, more than 25,000 contacts can be made. Our goal is to notify everyone as soon as possible so appropriate arrangements can be made for daycare, etc.
Our preference would always be to notify everyone the evening before a closing. However, the weather does not always cooperate to make this decision the night before. On occasion, the decision cannot be made until later in the morning.
No matter what decision is made, some people will be unhappy. But you can be assured that the safety of our more than 21,000 students and 3,000 staff members must be our top priority, even if some parents and families are inconvenienced.
I have worked in a school system where the life of a student was lost due to an “iffy” call on an icy morning. We learned very quickly that we can always make up a school day but we can never make up the loss of a child’s life.
We will always make our decision on the side of caution and with the best information available at the time. Let’s hope this winter season brings lots of sunshine during the school week and snowflakes only on weekends.
– – –
Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools System.

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