Below is an excerpt from a column I wrote almost ten years ago:
“Are we having school tomorrow?” I can still remember asking my parents that same question and the anticipation of a magical gift of a day off as a student with snow and ice on the ground. I always got so frustrated because they never announced school would be closed until the morning. Of course, this was long before the instant communication days we have now. If it didn’t get on the 10 o’clock news, we knew we would have to listen to the radio in the morning. I still remember tuning in to the radio and was so disappointed when the announcer would say we were going to school. I can also remember being frustrated because it always seemed we went to school when we should have been closed and then we would close when the weather was better and the snow had melted.
I thought I would tell you what goes into the decision-making process on whether or not to have school when the weather makes travel hazardous. There are a minimum of four members of our administrative team including myself that drive our roads when a decision has to be made. We drive in specially identified trouble areas for buses. These areas are known to be some of the most susceptible areas in our district for challenging travel in marginal weather. This occurs the night before (prior to the 10 o’clock news) and if necessary beginning at 4:00 a.m. By 5:15 a.m. a final decision must be made in order to begin bus routes and preparing breakfast. I would always prefer to issue a final decision before 10:00 p.m. but sometimes that isn’t possible.
We often get calls during the day when the weather has deteriorated asking if we plan to release students early. Only in absolutely extreme situations would we consider this option since many of our students might not have a parent or guardian at home and possibly not have the means to enter their house.
Closing school during inclement weather is one of the most difficult decisions we have to make. Other items given consideration in formulating a decision include the condition of our parking lots and sidewalks as well as power throughout the district. Seldom does our decision meet with 100% approval but I want to assure you it is an informed decision that is not made lightly.
Fast forward ten years and many things remain the same. As explained ten years ago, we still try to make the decision by 10:00 p.m. the night before and do not plan to release early unless it is an absolute extreme circumstance. In our community, social media has become more of a communication tool in the time since this article was originally written. Messages to the district Facebook page asking the status of school instructional delivery method in inclement weather will not be answered. An announcement will be made when the decision has been reached. The announcement will be made on social media, the OKC television stations, our local media outlets as well as an automated call to all families.
There are two important items that have changed over the years. Four years ago when we transitioned to neighborhood schools, the time to make the last decision about having school went from 5:15 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. based on how early our buses have to begin their routes. The other huge difference came from the COVID pandemic with the advent of distance learning. I’ve heard people bemoan the loss of the true “snow day” since we can have distance learning when inclement weather requires loss of in-person instruction. We have tried to be very intentional to assure distance learning translates into meaningful learning if we must close our buildings to in-person instruction. In the event that we have widespread power outages, we will have a true snow day, but that will probably require the instructional day is made up somewhere in our calendar.
As we enter the winter season, I wanted to share a “behind the scenes” look into how school is closed due to weather. We watch the forecast closely and regularly consult the National Weather Service for advice. Given all of the processes and technology in place, this is still one of the most difficult decisions we are required to make during a school year. We also know that regardless of the decision made, people will find fault with the tough call that must be made.