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Column: Snow day or not? Schools’ decision isn’t made alone

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It’s 4:30 a.m. It’s dark and somewhere between 0 and minus 6 degrees.

Snow furiously swirls in the headlights, coming straight at the windshield of the car in which I am riding. Becky is driving as we explore some of the country roads in our area. She occasionally brakes with caution to determine conditions and gather information.

I am hunkered down in the passenger seat shivering and wondering why the heater is taking forever to warm the air inside.

My wife’s retirement last July didn’t take.

Oh, things were fine for a few weeks — seven to be exact — but when she got the phone call asking if she would consider a job as interim superintendent of the school system in the community in which we live, and when she realized it would be a 10-minute drive to work and she would work part time, I figured she probably would accept.

Now she is fulfilling one of the responsibilities of a school superintendent: deciding whether to close the school, delay it for two hours or go with a regular school day.

Of course, she doesn’t make this decision alone. The director of transportation is involved as well as the other administrators of the corporation who are probably out driving roads at the same time.

She also has conference calls with the other superintendents in the area to assess the situation.

Depending on the specific conditions, they might or might not decide to do the same thing.

In our district, we have many hills and narrow country roads that are tricky to navigate in slippery conditions. A school system a few miles away has large areas of open farmland that are affected by blowing wind. Another school district has many children who walk to school, and extreme cold would be a factor.

Someone consults the National Weather Service wind chill charts and contacts the county road crew supervisors to get their take.

A two-hour delay means more time to get the bus engines warmed and ready. A delay also means daylight, which translates to more safety for students, but it also means lost time in the classroom.

Many variables figure into the decision.

When I was a kid I didn’t think too much about what went into the decision to close or delay school. All I knew was a forecast of big snow meant I would be up early listening to the radio hoping to hear the name of my school as the DJ cycled through the list.

This meant I could go back to sleep for a while longer and then play outside with my friends later in the day. If I thought about it at all, I figured closing was based on the ability of a bus to get through deep snow.

After I became a teacher but before I was married to a superintendent, I still thought much the same way about snow-day decisions.

OK, maybe playing outside with my friends wasn’t so much a part of what went through my mind, but the going back to sleep definitely was. (This is not to say I don’t enjoy even to this day making the occasional snowman.)

Besides posting school closings on TV rather than on radio, a bit of technological change that I particularly welcomed was when we transitioned from a phone tree to automatic calls.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I was handed a paper with the person who was to call me above my name and the person I was to call below it. It worked pretty well except for the time I didn’t get the call, shaved with water heated on the stove (our pipes were frozen), got dressed and drove to school, where the empty parking lot made me realize I could have stayed unshaven in bed.

Yawn. The car still hasn’t heated up, and we are almost home. Becky hasn’t made a decision yet, but she will very soon.

I might stay up or go back to bed.

Later, after it gets light, I might decide to go outside and build a snowman.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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