It’s that time of year again–when snow, ice and other wintry weather can impact the school day. Making decisions about school closings, delays or early dismissals can seem simple. However, as most meteorologists would agree, predicting the weather is not an exact science.
Weather forecasts are simply estimates, so all we can do is try our best to make informed decisions based on the available data. Each weather event is different and there are many variables to consider.
Sometimes the decision to close or delay school is easy, but sometimes the right decision is not so clear. Although it’s important for schools to preserve valuable instructional time by remaining open every scheduled day, there are extenuating events that can prevent that from being possible. Ultimately, the two main factors between staying open, delaying or closing are the safety of our students and the ability of school buses to navigate the local roads.
School administrators typically start watching the weather forecast at least a day before a winter storm and continue looking for weather updates late into the night. Calling a snow day the night prior can be tricky, however, due to unpredictable changes in weather patterns. Therefore, we are up before sunrise, working with the local highway department and the HCSD Transportation Department to evaluate road conditions and determine if they are safe enough to transport our students for the start of the school day. This process often starts around 4 a.m., however a final decision can take some time and is usually settled by 7 a.m.
Any decision to close or delay schools due to weather takes into account the specific geographic features of the Hudson City School District, including our more rural areas like Ghent, Livingston and Taghkanic. Local road conditions, weather forecasts, temperatures and the operating conditions of buses and school buildings are all taken into consideration.
Perhaps the most challenging task is trying to guess what time the road conditions will improve. Will the roads be safe by 10 a.m., or will they remain slippery until lunchtime? This unknown can be the difference between a delay and a full snow day.
One misconception that some people believe is that the district stays open on snowy days so that we will not lose state aid. This is never the case. Safely transporting students is always our number one goal. While it is true that schools must operate at least 180 days to receive aid, the district is fully prepared to add days to the calendar as needed. If we use all our snow days, the district has already identified days on the calendar to make up the missed instructional time.
Once the decision is made to dismiss early, delay or close school, that information is announced through a variety of means:
- School closings are announced on local radio (98.5 FM The Cat) and TV news stations.
- Phone messages are sent to parents/guardians.
- In addition, we post notices on the district website.
- We also post notifications to our district Facebook and Twitter pages.
Families are encouraged to continue monitoring all delays, as they could turn into school closings depending on the weather.
Please also keep in mind that early dismissals, delays and school closings don’t just happen during snow storms. Power outages, extreme wind chills, boiler failures and water main breaks are a few examples of circumstances that could affect the safe operation of our schools and warrant an emergency closing.
There are a lot of factors that go into making a final decision on school delays and closings. However the number one goal, as always, is to keep everyone safe. Families should be sure to have an emergency plan and to have their contact information kept up to date with their school’s main office.
Wishing us all a safe winter season.
This column was published in the Register-Star on January 8, 2018.