“Well, the weather outside is frightful…”
The United States saw its first major snowstorm of the season this weekend, as winter storm Benji made its way from Texas to the eastern seaboard.
While students in Houston enjoyed the rare snowfall, communities in Alabama and Georgia faced more severe weather resulting in school closures. By Sunday, the northeast was clearing out several inches of snow, and awaiting a new round of storms.
— Carolyn King (@Carolyn_King123) December 8, 2017
The Tuscaloosa City Schools will suspend normal operations today due to the weather. All after-school extracurricular activities planned for today have been canceled. #alwx #snowday pic.twitter.com/LhZMH2P2xd
— TCS Board of Ed (@TCSBoardofEd) December 8, 2017
The onset of winter—and its weather—means another staple of the season that every school leader must face: The decision to close schools or not, and the criticism that comes with either decision.
Concerned parents who question the safety of wet roads when schools aren’t shut down. Busy parents who must scramble for childcare even though road conditions seem fine. Students who just want to stay home and make a snowman.
It’s impossible to make everyone happy, all the time. But there are ways to ensure parents, students, and community stakeholders understand your weather delay decisions.
With that in mind, here are three important questions school leaders should ask about their winter weather decision process.
1. Do community members understand how weather closure decisions are made?
Several factors go into decisions about school closings—factors that many students, parents, and community members might not be aware of.
In urban districts that serve large populations of low-income students, for instance, school lunches are sometimes the only healthy meals students eat all day. Closing schools without a contingency plan for meal service can have a real effect on the well-being of many students.
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In wide-open rural communities, while main roads may seem perfectly clear, more remote streets can still be dangerous. Sometimes buses can’t access students who live in remote neighborhoods or on isolated properties.
Every school district has to weigh its own set of potential weather-related issues. The more community members understand these factors, the more likely they’ll be to respect the district’s decision.
Is your winter weather protocol posted on your district website? Have you briefed your community about the decision-making process, either in writing or at school meetings?
If the answer is no, don’t be surprised when the criticism comes. And it will come.
2. Are you using every possible channel to relay weather-related information?
I distinctly remember getting up early on the morning of an anticipated snow day, turning on the local TV news channel, and crossing my fingers that my school district’s name would scroll across the screen.
Nowadays, getting the word out about weather delays isn’t as simple as informing the local news.
With parents and students receiving their information through multiple social media and online channels, school districts need to have systems in place to quickly inform community members, wherever they are. Of course, they also need a way to receive, sort, and respond to questions and concerns from parents and families.
3. Do you reassess your decision-making process at the end of the winter season or after major storms?
No matter how well you’ve prepared your district to objectively assess weather conditions and make school closure decisions, your choices will be scrutinized. So will your process.
Do you have a system for assessing your decision-making process?
What steps do you take to invite community feedback on weather policies and procedures? When parents and students feel included in the process, they usually feel better about the outcome, even if they don’t always agree with it.
What is your process for declaring weather-related school closings or delays? How do you include your community in that process? Tell us in the comments.