Superintendent's Viewpoint: Safety at heart of snow day closuresClosing school due to weather is one of the more difficult and controversial things that a superintendent undertakes.
By: Keith Jacobus, Woodbury Bulletin
I love the change of the seasons, particularly fall. The crisp air and changing color of the leaves make for beautiful scenery, but the changes in the season foreshadow the coming of winter and the potential for weather related school closures. Some of the first questions I had from students, when I began as superintendent this summer, focused on my plans for calling off school due to inclement weather. The students hoped I would close our schools more frequently than they had remembered in the past.
Closing school due to weather is one of the more difficult and controversial things that a superintendent undertakes. Certainly the first consideration when determining if we should close, is the safety of our students. How safe the roads are to travel and our ability to plow our parking lots is always subject to interpretation. I know if I close schools or decide to stay open on snowy mornings, some of you will be unhappy with the decision I make. I want to inform you of how the decision is made and what factors are considered when severe weather strikes.
As the superintendent, I am charged with ultimately making the decisions regarding all school closings and/or schedule changes. The most compelling reason we have for closing schools will always be the safety of our students and employees. I make all of these decisions in consultation with other staff. I may also consult with city personnel and neighboring school districts as appropriate. Our goal is to make the decision on closing school or delaying the start of school as early as possible. If I can, I will make the decision the night before or when possible by 5 a.m. At the first sign of severe winter weather we begin monitoring the forecast and our local road conditions. We weigh the amount of snow that has fallen, the forecast for continued accumulation, and the ability to clear our parking lots and school walkways, the drivability of the roadways, the ability of our busses to start and our drivers to get into work, and the safety of our students in getting to the bus stops. We will be on the phone and assessing all factors throughout the night until a decision can be reached.
In the event of a school closing or delay, our district’s communications department will communicate the decision through a variety of sources. We will post the information on the district website, the Staff Intranet, through Info to Go Listservs, WCCO, KARE 11, KSTP and FOX 9 television stations, and on the district’s cable channel 15.
Late starts and early dismissals are inherently difficult for many parents and programs. With this in mind, we will do our best to keep these to a minimum. I would request that all of our families have a contingency plan for their children in the event of school closings. Elementary families are encouraged to have a plan on file with the school so that staff will know how to direct their children in these situations.
The decision to cancel after school and evening activities will be made by 3 p.m., and will not necessarily be tied to a school closing. The principal of an individual school in conjunction with the Assistant Superintendent may decide to cancel K-12 after school/evening activities due to existing or predicted weather conditions even if such activities are not canceled district wide. However, Community Education closures are made by the Director of Community Education.
In the event of an early dismissal or cancelation of evening events, our Kid’s Club supervisors will contact participating parents to pick their children up as soon as possible. Weekend events and/or rental closures will be determined by appropriate Community Education and athletic staff and communicated via WCCO, KSTP, KARE 11 and FOX 9 News and the district’s cable channel 15.
I hope we do not have to face the decision to close school during the upcoming winter months. I also hope our severe weather comes on the weekends and gives us plenty of snow allowing us time to admire, play, snowmobile and ski. If that does not happen, we will be prepared to make the best decision possible for our students and staff.
Jacobus is superintendent of South Washington County School District