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Digging out: What Jonas taught us about school weather decisions

East Coasters are still digging out from under the snowy mess left by winter storm Jonas. But just days after one of the largest snow storms in recent memory, some parents and teachers are questioning what prompted administrators’ decisions to keep their doors open during the onslaught.

While schools in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia were closed for a second straight day Tuesday, many schools in New York City have been open all week. The decision to keep schools open outraged some parents and teachers who said that city streets narrowed by snow and icy sidewalks caused significant transportation delays and made for a dangerous commute. As Soo Lee, a teacher in Queens, told Metro on Monday, “They should have just closed and took this day off so they can clean up as much as possible.”

Confusion over weather delays in schools is nothing new. Most school district leaders will face criticism over a weather-related decision at some point in their career. It’s simply impossible to please everybody all the time. But that doesn’t excuse your school or district from effectively communicating and explaining its decision.

A lot to think about
The decision to close schools is a complicated one, perhaps more so now than ever. Our schools are places of instruction. But they are also community centers. Many double as child care facilities, health clinics, and even meal providers, especially in poor and urban communities. When schools are closed, some students literally go hungry.

That’s a reality that school leaders in Washington, D.C. considered when they made the decision to close city schools in the wake of Jonas. Though the schools were closed for instruction, officials kept open 10 cafeterias to provide meals to students.

“We know that many of our families are heavily reliant on us to provide adequate nutrition for their kids,” Nathaniel Beers, COO of DC Public Schools, told the Washington Post.

Food isn’t the only consideration that school leaders must make when facing a weather-related closure. With so many young and inexperienced drivers on the roads, or in their parking lots, some schools close just to keep students safe.

Engaging your community
Whatever your reasons, it’s important to keep your community engaged and informed of your decision. Failing to do so could lead to frustration—or, worse, anger.

Thanks to the evolution of new communication tools and social media, districts have become very efficient at announcing school closings. Many have become downright clever. Check out this announcement spoofing pop-star Adele.

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Being funny is great. But school leaders can, and should, do more to effectively explain their decisions.

Constant updates, calls for feedback, and explanations about how the weather-related closure and delay process works go a long way toward ensuring your community takes comfort in your decision.

How do you engage your community when controversial weather decisions blow in to town? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for a way to engage your students, families, and teachers? Check out Let’s Talk!