3 Jan 2017

Get Rid of Snow Days

Get Rid of Snow Days

Without a doubt one of the most counter productive things I had to do as a superintendent was the whole ritual of calling school off due to snow.  Every single time I had to go through this ritual I felt a little like I was compromising on my principles.   I felt then, and feel stronger now that we must get rid of snow days.  In fact, to even say there are snow days lacks conviction because there are no so days- there are only instructional days.

I am sure many people wonder who and how snow days are determined?  I know, based on many past phone calls to my office, there are many people who think they know how the process went and that I must be stupid for calling off school.  After all, in their revisionist memory, they never had school called off due to snow in the good old days and because of my decision I am making kids soft today.  There were also equally as many who expressed thanks with a typical giddiness in their voice like when you find that bonus curly fry in your order of regular fries- bonus!  Both approached were expected to occur in advance of the decision to call school and yes, they do factor into the decision for some superintendents more than others.

So there has to be a process and sound reason for calling school off and taking away an instruction day, in a country that already has fewer instructional days that many other higher achieving countries, right?  Here is the insider trader information on what it looks like in most school districts across this country the morning of a potential snow day:

  • The day before the anticipated storm, call the neighboring superintendents and get an agreement that we are “all for one and one for all”.  Agree that if one calls we will all call off school.  Nobody wants to be the only one to call off school in the area or heaven forbid,  have school when the neighboring school district called off school!
  • Set your alarm for 4:00 am the day of the anticipated storm.  Wake up, turn on the reliable local news station, check NOAA website and drink some coffee.
  • Get in my car and drive around the district.  I was never fully sure the purpose because I never personally owned a bus, which is what we were trying to determine could safely travel the routes.  The reason for this exercise wa if I was asked, by a disgruntle staff member or patron because we did not call off school, “Do you know how dangerous the roads are?” I can reply, I drove the roads myself this morning.  Not like I could possible drive every mile of the bus routes in the school district but I did drive the roads.
  • I instructed district transportation staff to drive roads through out the school district and to report their findings back to me.
  • Decision deadline approaching!!  So there is this magical time that the buses typically begin to roll out of the transportation parking lot each morning and that is the magical time by which a decision HAS to be made to “start our engines” or not.  Of course this is not based on a wealth of logic rather, ritualistic habit, but it did give some structure to a typically loose process.  Reports from my staff who drove the routes were called in, staff double checked to see that all the busses were operational (would start) then I called the other superintendents.
  • Phone call to superintendents went like this:  “So what are you thinking?”,  “Ok, so you are thinking about calling off school, when will you make that decision?”,  “What are we doing?  We are leaning towards calling off school too.” (Superintendents don’t like to tip their hand too soon to their colleagues about a firm decision) ,  “Have to you talked to Joe to see what he planning to do in his school district?”,  “Well, I will give Joe a call to see and make sure we all are doing the same thing.”
  • Finally after a series of phone calls and text messages some form of consensus is made that we are all are going to call school.  Phone call to the Board President is made, phone calls are made to the media, school district broadcasts are made and the “phone calling tree” is activated to let all district staff know.
  • I would dress, head in and wait for the inevitable being an unusual uptick in emails and phone calls about the decision to call off school.  There would be a mix of thank you to what the heck were you thinking.

That is a true reflection of how most school districts and superintendents decide if school is cancelled due to inclement weather.  I can say I always felt like I was coalescing to decisions that were not always true to our purpose- education. That is not to say that student safety wasn’t a top priority.  I always questioned if it was not safe enough for a large school bus with trained drivers to get kids to school then how was it safe enough for the kids to be driving to the malls and movie theaters on snow days?

So my suggestion is get rid of snow days altogether.  Every day is an instructional day which should be held as the utmost priority of an institution in the business of education.  Schools should clearly share with the school community that school will be operational everyday and that parents have always had the right to keep their child home if they feel it is unsafe to get them to school.

To illustrate my point, I live in a mountain town with 143 inches of snowfall each year and a school district that is approximately 800 square miles with lots of bus routes. Over the last decade school was cancelled one day.  If our local district can keep schools running why can’t the thousands of other school districts, especially suburban school districts with more snow removal resources at their disposal.  We must get rid of snow days and the sentiment that staff, students and parents have that they are “built” into the calendar so use them or lose them.  But this would be as challenging of a paradigm shift as discussing changes to the rural agrarian calendar, recess, and a guaranteed two weeks off for the holidays.  It is time to get rid of snow days.


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