They’re coming: Snow days and tough decisions

I’ll bet we all have a story about the ice storm of 2008. I remember when the power initially went off, and we assumed it would only be for a short while. The benefit was that the scenery was stunning with all of the icicles glistening on the trees. Unfortunately, the power outages lasted for a really long time. Local fire stations and schools served as gathering places for people to keep warm, use the bathroom, and get something hot to eat. I know that we had it so much easier than many others due to the generosity of friends (including a wonderful person who loaned us a generator). Nevertheless, the power outage lasted for a total of 11 days. For some in the area, it lasted 14 days and ended on Christmas Eve.

The fact is we have had some interesting weather in our state over the last several years. There was the terrible flooding that occurred in the Alstead region of the state, the snowstorm of up to three feet, and Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, to mention just a few. So the question becomes what will the weather be like this school year, and how does the school district make the decision to close school.

The ConVal School District consists of nine different towns spread over 250 square miles. The terrain in these towns can vary greatly and as a result so can the local weather. At different points in time, it could be snowing in Francestown and Dublin but be sunny with no snow in Greenfield and Peterborough. That can make calling snow or inclement weather days especially challenging.

On stormy days, the bus transportation company and the town highway departments are in close contact. These calls take place at around 4 a.m. The bus company and highway departments discuss current weather conditions, future forecasted conditions, and the condition of the roadways. They also make a general determination about whether they think it would be safe to transport students to our 11 schools.

Around 4:45 a.m., the superintendent receives a call from the bus company, and the superintendent uses that information to determine whether or not to close the schools, call for a two-hour delay in the opening of schools, or keep the schools open and operating in typical fashion. In most cases, once students have come to school on a bad weather day, every attempt would be made to keep them at school until the end of the school day. We do this because it is very difficult for families to change their plans and find different care alternatives for their children if a decision is made to close schools at noon. Finally, if we decide to cancel school for a weather-related reason, we cancel school for the entire school district. Therefore, it may be sunny in your town, but for the safety of students in another town with a lot of snow, we have to close schools throughout the district.

On a different weather-related subject, last year the ConVal School District implemented the practice of using “Blizzard Bags” on some days when the weather was too treacherous for schools to be open. These “Blizzard Bags” included packets of academic work for students to complete in lieu of making up the snow day at the end of the school year. Although the program had some positive aspects, the technology and learning platform was not as strong as we would have liked. As a result, a decision has been made to suspend the “Blizzard Bag” program for at least the 2013-2014 school year.

Hopefully, this school year will provide us with plenty of snow for our outdoor activities like skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing. My other hope is that the snow falls on non-school days. Well, as the saying goes, “one out of two ain’t bad.”

Brendan Minnihan is the ConVal superintendent.

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