To close or not to close: Solving snow day woes

Ashley Cline, Co-Editor-in-Chief

   The beginning weeks of second semester brought frigid temperatures and, on some days, piles of snow to which to wake up. It was on these days, when the roads were covered in slush and ice, that the commute of students and staff were made hazardous. Roads often went unplowed, and the parking lots at MHS felt no different.

   “There was one day in particular that was rough for staff and students to get to school due to the weather,” Principal Dr. Anthony Kroll said. “The weather was late in hitting the area. If it had been delayed an hour, it would not have had an impact. If it had arrived two hours earlier, it would have likely prompted a late start or a snow day. If it did not come at all and MHS called a snow day, it is a waste of a perfectly great school day.”

   Many students couldn’t help but question why a snow day wasn’t called considering the conditions. The reality is that deciding whether to call a snow day or not can be complex– with several factors contributing to the decision.

   The superintendent for MHS works with the superintendents of local “sender schools” to make a coordinated decision as individual families may have students in multiple districts. 

   Many parties play a role in giving the superintendent information. The director of building and grounds ensures that parking lots are able to be plowed and heating systems are working properly, the bus company reports if buses are able to start in the conditions and able to drive safely, and the village reports road passability. There are also several meteorological metrics taken into account.

   “Although there are many factors taken into consideration, we consult the National

Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wind chill chart,” Superintendent Kevin Myers said. “When the wind chill temperatures drop (during commuting hours) to the point where frostbite occurs within 10-15 minutes, we are likely to close. We do take into consideration other factors, including how surrounding schools are responding, the amount of snow falling per hour and the conditions of the roads.”

   The impact of closing the school is also considered as an additional emergency day would be tacked on to the end of the year– which would cause finals this year to occur on a Friday and a Monday with a weekend awkwardly placed in between. 

   Kroll also noted the importance of ensuring all students receive lunch, something that would not happen with a snow day. 

   Ultimately, the final decision must be made by 5:30 a.m. to ensure staff and the bus company can be notified in time. With weather conditions everchanging in these circumstances, there is bound to be a margin of error– risking that the school remains open when it shouldn’t be or closes when the conditions are fine.

   Considering the detailed nature of calling snow days, implementing late starts on these days may be the perfect compromise. 

   MHS uses a bell schedule that starts at 9:25 a.m. every Thursday– this schedule is well ingrained into the regular calendar and could be used to our advantage on days with inclement weather. 

   “MHS has used a late start this way in the past, and this is always an option,” Kroll said. “The benefit is that MHS does not burn a snow day and lengthen the school year if the weather did not turn out to be as bad as it was thought.”

   A late start would mean that a greater number of roads would be plowed by the time staff and students must make their commute, and it eliminates the main drawbacks of closing the school for a day– ensuring students receive food and not having to take an emergency day. There would be less students late to school due to unforeseen road conditions as well, which was an issue on two days this semester when there was such an abundance of students late that tardies were forgiven. Overall, late starts are a great solution to ensure students are safe and wintry mornings run smoother. 

   “It is definitely an interesting idea: to give a late start and have more time in the morning for everybody to get here, staff and students, to get here safely; then, you don’t also lose that school day, as long as conditions are safe enough in a couple hours,” Math Teacher Greg Dorgan said. 

   Of course, there are drawbacks to running a later schedule. There would still likely need to be some logistical problem-solving done, potentially with the bus company, and for individual families that may be split across multiple districts. 

   “The drawbacks are that not all the elementary schools have a late-start option,” Myers said. “The closing or delay of school also can be burdensome to families due to childcare and work schedules.”

   Ultimately, late starts remain on the table for emergency use at MHS and should be seriously considered in the future to prevent some of the issues students and staff faced this year on days when the weather made for risky commutes– all while limiting the consequences of fully closing the school.