Viewpoint: Do we ever call off school?Each year I attempt to write a column in late fall that outlines how we make the decision to call off school.
By: Tom Nelson, South Washington County Bulletin
Each year I attempt to write a column in late fall that outlines how we make the decision to call off school. This year I was busy writing about the many changes in our district and all of a sudden it is December and the phone is ringing with callers that question our decision to hold school in cold weather. It appears this is a subject that needs discussion every year and it will still be a decision that cannot be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. That said, I am going to provide a short reminder of what has been said in past years, knowing in advance this will not please everyone.
First off, we all live in Minnesota. I grew up listening to WCCO on cold snowy days waiting for an announcement about my school closing. As I began teaching I waited for my superintendent’s decision on whether school was going to close, then as a parent whether my children’s school was closing. In time, I was the person who had to make the decision! For the past 17 years I have been the person deciding whether to hold or cancel school for the day.
This is the least favorite part of my job. First off, I am up almost all night prior to making a decision. Our weather people today are pretty darned accurate. They tell us in advance when the storm will hit, how much snow we will get and how cold the temperature will be at the bus stop in the morning. I watch the late news weather and then monitor the weather throughout the night. My wife sets the alarm for every couple hours and I get up, check the computer for an update, and do my “meteorologist” look out the window. Then back to bed for an hour and then up for the same routine again.
I am contacted around 4 to 5 a.m. by our transportation director with an update and many times a recommendation. Before he calls me, he checks with local law enforcement, other nearby metro school districts, city, county and state transportation departments, and our own bus drivers to get the best information available. We then make a decision. The decision is always based on safety.
We do not have a temperature number whereby we decide to close school. There may be days it is well below zero, but with little wind and we stay open. I always get a few calls criticizing this decision, but again parents always have the option to keep their children at home. We make the best decision we can, but we respect a parent’s view to keep their children at home.
Minnesota winters can be harsh. We do a great deal of planning to be ready for inclement weather. Our administrative procedures are available on the district’s Web site under ‘quick links’ so you can review the decision-making as well as find out the ways we communicate decisions. The information will be posted on our district web site, sent out through the “urgent messages” list serv through “Info to Go,” shared with TV stations on channels 4, 5, 9 and 11, as well as being posted on Cable TV Channel 15.
Tom Nelson is superintendent of School District 833.