Dr. Lynn Moody: Here are factors that go into school weather decisions
Dr. Lynn Moody, superintendent
By Dr. Lynn Moody
Special to the Salisbury Post
Ice and snow seem to come at 6:30 a.m.
One of the most challenging responsibilities of a superintendent is deciding whether to delay or close schools due to inclement weather. This is a complicated process and I want very much for you to know that I carry the safety of our students with me 24/7.
Our school buses begin rolling at 5:15 a.m. and it seems to begin to ice or snow between 5 at 6:30 in the morning. Because we are talking about predictions, even professional meteorologists, with their equipment, experience, knowledge and education, do not always get it right.
We have the privilege of serving 20,000 students with a variety of different needs. I try to always err on the side of caution and it is important to know all the “cautions” that enter into that equation about what is safe and best for all our students and families.
Our No. 1 goal is that our children are safely transported to and from school every day. The concern is not only for our school buses, but also for our teenage drivers, our staff, and children being individually transported to schools.
Approximately 65 percent of our students live in poverty. When it is extremely cold outside, the best place for many of our children is inside our warm school buildings with hot nutritious meals. When school is closed, we have children that may not have warm homes or that may not eat that day.
Parents and loss of wages
We are sensitive to the fact that we have many parents with jobs that do not allow them to be late or do not allow them to take the day off without experiencing a loss in wages.
Student contact information
It is crucial to keep student contact information updated so calls are not missed, which could prevent children from standing outside in the cold.
Our core business is teaching and learning. Our teachers, principals and administrators work hard to improve student academic performance. We need and must have as much time as possible to teach the standards required by our state. We truly value the time with our students. School delays:
Reduce instructional time
Disrupt routines that can be unsettling for students
Force teachers to redesign or rewrite lessons
Disrupt the quality of a regular school day, since delayed school days are not typically as strong
for making “The Call
So with all this to consider, here is what we do in order to make the safest and most informed call that we can:
We send out transportation staff at 4 a.m. to different parts of the county to check road conditions.
We communicate with local Emergency Management officials to receive the latest reports.
We check with the NC Department of Transportation and the state Highway Patrol.
We check with neighboring school districts.
We monitor several local and national weather and news stations to gather current information.
Making the decision
I try to make the decision as early as possible to give families time to plan, but often weather changes overnight. Because our district has a large geographic area and our school buses run dual routes, drivers start preparing to ”crank the engines” as early as 5 a.m. This is much earlier than many of our neighboring school districts and why not all districts make the same call. Once our 189 school buses are on the road, it takes approximately two hours to turn our buses around. This is before the sun comes up, which means we have limited visibility and the weather often changes quickly when the sun begins to rise.
The bottom line is that many changes in weather happen between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. I encourage everyone to always make decisions that are best for the safety of you and your child. If you feel it is unsafe, please keep your child at home. We will work with you in determining if a child is considered absent or tardy and to help make up any missed schoolwork.
The next decision —
With instruction as our focus, any day during the school year may become a makeup day. Making up time on Saturdays, spring break, or extending the school year are not popular choices and we make every effort to use those days as a last resort. If days are excused by the state, our students have less time to learn the standards that they will be expected to know for the required tests at end of the year.
I will continue do my best in making the best decisions based on predictions as I possibly can. I hope that you can see why it is not as easy as it may seem to “get it right.” Safety is critically important to me and I want to provide the best instructional day possible for our students. Thank you for working with us. Safety will always be our top priority.
Lynn Moody is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools.