How Do Schools Decide to Cancel Classes?
As you know, we've had some hits and misses when it comes to school cancellations. But who decides that school is out, and just as importantly - HOW do they decide? A few weeks ago, you probably remember that everybody thought we were going to have a big ice storm in our area. And yes, some areas did have ice, but the majority of the bad stuff missed us. Schools were cancelled, events postponed, businesses closed (we even sent most of our people home), and everybody hunkered down.... for nothing.
So I'm sure you guys probably understand that the decision to cancel school because of weather isn't taken lightly. It affects a lot of people, and the districts are very aware that babysitters, day cares, parents, kids, businesses,....a lot of people will be involved. So how do they make the decision? I reached out to the local school Superintendents and posed that very question.
Jerrod Wheeler, Superintendent of Knob Noster schools, put it like this:
Generally speaking, I have no set criteria except for one: "If in doubt, school is out." When it comes to ice, like in the recent forecast, and we are able to avoid it altogether, then I don't chance it. Ice leaves very little room for forgiveness, so I usually take increased caution and take less chances.
Meanwhile, when it comes to snow, he says there are a lot of different things they take into account, like: the timing of the snow arrival, recent ground temperatures, temperatures and wind chill, visibility and daylight , the ability to clear sidewalks and parking lots, County Road verses City/State road conditions, drifting, refreezing, and more.
They have a team that will go out, driving roads late and early to assess conditions for themselves. This is a very similar technique used by Warrensburg schools. Scott Patrick, the Superintendent of Warrensburg's schools, said this (emphasis mine):
I do not typically cancel school or schedule an early-out based on a weather forecast or what other neighboring school districts are doing. This is risky and more times than not have turned out to be poor decisions. I am in constant communication with the surrounding superintendents when weather conditions are poor. As far as our district, our transportation department and central office administration drive the roads/routes to determine if conditions warrant closing school or an early-out. Safety is of course our number one priority.
Meanwhile, here in Sedalia, the schools are just as cautious. The Sedalia 200 superintendent, Brad Pollitt, also weighed in, telling me via the telephone that there is a very considered process when it comes to cancelling school.
The Sedalia 200 district takes a lot of things into consideration: the opinion of EMA Director the night before inclement weather and the morning of school, the action plans of other school superintendents, weather projections, as well as four people (including Mr Pollitt) who go out very early the day of questionable weather to drive the routes themselves to determine if conditions are safe. Never, under any circumstances, is school cancelled for any other reason that to err on the side of caution for the students - a common misconception on social media is that money is a factor. Mr Pollitt assured me that there is no truth to that whatsoever.
If the weather and/or wind chill is anywhere in the -10 or -20 degree area, that's when delayed starts come in. In icy conditions, they try to make a decision before 5:45 a.m. the day of, but if they can come to a safe decision the day before, they will. Mr Pollitt told me that deciding if school should be cancelled is the hardest part of his job, and the part he likes the least. His commendations also go out to the parents of Sedalia students for dealing with the closings, delays, and early outs. He really appreciates the parents for stepping up and doing the best they can for the kids.
So there you have it. For the most part, the districts will drive the routes themselves (possibly putting themselves in danger, remember) in snowy weather to see if it's safe. If they feel like it's not worth it, they cancel school. When it comes to ice, the general rule does in fact seem to be "If In Doubt, School Is Out". I know it can be a little annoying to have to get a babysitter or make alternative arrangements, but they're just trying to keep all the kids safe. It's a huge responsibility, and they take it very seriously.