Grissom: Snow-day decisions involve several people
The most frequently asked question during the winter months is how does the school system make the decision to close or delay for inclement weather?
One of the biggest challenges faced by the school system staff during the winter months is what to do during inclement weather. The Rowan-Salisbury School System has already missed one day for icy roads before the winter holidays. We are hoping that this early arrival of bad weather is not an indication as to how the winter of 2011 might affect the operations of our schools. January (and this year even December) brings thoughts of snow, ice and/or a wintry mix and school closings to the minds of school leaders. Therefore, itís the perfect time to remind everyone about how decisions are made in the school system as the inclement weather is already beginning to arrive.
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 school system staff make 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 remind everyone of the complex process involved and the amount of time and information used in making this crucial decision.
Rowan-Salisbury School buses begin running at 5:15 a.m. 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 on county roads as early as 4 a.m. This crew checks 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 school 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 may be experiencing no precipitation. Rowan County seems to be on the dividing line for weather predictions, which makes the decision even more difficult.
After as much information as possible has been collected, system level administrators make a decision on the collective findings. This decision is not a ěone personî decision, nor is it taken lightly. As soon as the decision is made, it is communicated to various local and regional media outlets and other administrators. Connect-ED, a communications system, allows us to contact every staff member and every studentís home to share our decision. Within 15 minutes, more than 25,000 contacts can be made. This information is also posted on the school districtís website, as well as communicated to all local media. 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, there will be unhappy people. But you can be assured that the safety of our more than 20,000 students and more than 3,000 staff members is our top priority, even if parents/families may be inconvenienced.
I have worked in a school system where the life of a student was lost due to an ěiffyî 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 childís life. We will always make our decision on the side of caution and with the best information available at the time. Letís hope this winter season brings lots of sunshine during the school week and snowflakes only on weekends and holidays.
Dr. Judy Grisson is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.