Archive for Thursday, February 12, 2004

Snow-day decision not always easy

February 12, 2004

James White believes there is not much more that is as disliked by superintendents as calling snow days.

The Baldwin superintendent said he thought not only is deciding whether to cancel school because of the weather difficult, but one of the least enjoyable aspects of the top position in the district.

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"It's one of the least-liked things we have to do as part of our jobs," White said.

Regardless of what decision is made, he said, there will be people unhappy with it. But, invariably, it's a decision that will have to be made at least once during a school year.

"You just try to use your best judgment when deciding," he said.

The decision to cancel school has actually happened in Baldwin more than once this year. In fact, the total number of snow days the district has had so far this year numbers five following the town's recent bouts with snow and ice.

School was canceled three days last week -- Monday, Thursday and Friday -- as well as Jan. 26 because of severe winter weather. The last snow day the district had was before winter break.

Though five snow days might have some worried about extra days at the end of the year, as of yet, students and faculty will not have to make up any of those days.

"I think we have enough hours built in for five days," White said. "It appears to me that if we miss any days in the future, we'll have to look at times where we might have to make them up."

Snow days aren't called on a whim, White said. Instead, the district looks at a series of indicators to determine whether school will still be in session despite the winter weather.

When severe winter weather occurs, White said he drives the local and area roads at 4 a.m. to determine the road conditions. He said the transportation director also does the same.

He said school officials also discuss whether district parking lots and sidewalks can be cleared properly, as well as what the temperature and wind-chill are and what could possibly take place with the weather throughout the day.

Then 10 area superintendents from schools like Eudora, Wellsville, Pomona and Ottawa have an early morning conference call.

"We try to all come to an agreement on whether we're going to have school," he said.

There are times, he said, some of the area schools will still have school while others cancel classes, but they usually try to remain consistent. He said it's helpful just to have input from other districts.

"Then it's not basically just one person looking at the issues," he said.

There are times school is canceled, White said, even though some streets in town appear clear of snow and ice.

"The highways may look clear, but they're not always clear in the country," he said. "Some of the hills we go up and down with buses are not always navigable on those days."

The final decision that's made can be considered an all or nothing. He said it's not an option to have class for students who can make it to school while excluding those who can't make it -- like the ones who ride buses -- because of the weather.

"I don't think it's legal," he said. "You either have to have school for all kids or you can't have school. You have to make a decision based on the entire student population."

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