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Perspective on school closings

By Dr. Bill Truby Growing up in the snow belt in northeast Ohio, having a snow day wasn’t uncommon. The state legislature gave every district five emergency days that could be missed without making them up. That leeway took some of the stress off the news ‘no school tomorrow.’ The problem is five days can be used long before one was dreaming of a white Christmas. Moving south gave me hope that rarely there’d be the need to go through the machinations of calling off a day of school. I thought the days of touring roads, conversing with county officials and neighboring superintendents and watching, listening and Googling media all night and day had come to an end. After all, it would never snow more than an inch or two in the south ‘“ and that would be no big deal. Ha! As I’ve found out, every part of the country has its own unique weather challenges. Here in Lamar County a winter storm carries with it many potential problems, all of which I must consider when I close the schools. Of course, if the main highways have any accumulation of snow that’s a problem, especially when there are few means of removing that snow. Then there’s ice to consider. This can be a real problem because it can be disguised, most notably on the back, unlit or unpaved roads. Ice can also accumulate on power lines. If there’s a loss of power at home, there are candles and the like. At school there are no back-up plans that can take care of hundreds of children and adults. Ice can also be found ‘“ often quite by accident ‘“ in parking lots, sidewalks and entry ways. Just when you thought it was safe to relax ‘“ ooops! Then there’s the cold. When temperatures drop to the teens or single digits, buses have a hard time getting cranked. Children waiting for an extended time at bus stops for a bus that didn’t get started on time or was delayed due to icy conditions may be exposed to some physically distressful situations. Then there are children who drive to school. Teens have a tendency to think they’re indestructible, especially if there seems to be a new, exciting venture waiting for them: donuts on a highway or in a parking lot. Too soon they learn laws of nature are nothing to fool around with. Hopefully, the lesson is minor ‘“ but not always. My responsibility in making a decision about school closings is simple: Is it safe for our students of all ages and our employees of all positions to come to their school? To err on the side of caution seems to be the logical position to take ‘“ and one I’ve taken here in Lamar County. I remember one of my college professors telling our class of doctoral students he had one major regret while being a superintendent in Tennessee. That regret was he took too few ‘snow days.’ He didn’t elaborate on why he regretted it but I have a feeling he may have learned an important lesson the hard way. I’m not opposed to learning from others’ experience, particularly when there’s so much at stake. Test scores and ball games take a back seat to safety any time. Making up snow days has at least two parts to it. Students may or may not have to make up the days. This is determined by the local school board, which passes its decision to the state. Our history has shown students usually don’t have to make up these days. Contrary to rumors, no consideration has been given to the idea that make-up days would be on Saturday. The second part of make-ups has to do with our employees. We’ll have to make up the time that has been missed. There’s much to do; there’ll be no problem catching up with the time cards. Getting the word out about school closings is high tech these days. We use an automated ‘phone home’ messaging center. We have phone trees that are a bit more personalized for district employees and each building. I contact each media source ‘“ TV, radio, online services. I believe we do a good job of making a decision as early as possible and getting the word out as quickly as we can. Our biggest challenge seems to be with numbers that changed since the beginning of the year and the ensuing phone calls to us when those homes haven’t been reached. While I hope school closings are a rarity in Lamar, for education’s sake, I also hope when they do occur the change of pace can be enjoyed ‘“ safely and securely.

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