October 2017 - Weather-Related Decisions
The Jacket Report
By Thomas L. Hosler, Superintendent
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NOAA’s National Weather Service have reported that there is an increasing chance (~55-60%) of La Niña during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2017-18. According to NOAA, La Niña refers to the cold phase in the fluctuation in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific, which typically results in a colder winter with more snow. El Niño refers to the warm phase.
As temperatures begin to fall, we would like to review our weather-related decision-making process in regards to the delay or cancelation of school. It is common on any given questionable day that we receive feedback from the community that we got the decision right or wrong. The only thing we can count on is that no matter what decision is made, it will not make everyone happy.
Checking the RoadsWhen questionable weather is expected, the transportation director and I head out to personally check the roads each time. We are grateful that the Perrysburg Township Police Dispatchers and Perrysburg City Police Dispatchers call the transportation director at 4 a.m. to notify us when officers experience hazardous road conditions. The transportation director and I then split the district in half and drive the roads. The school district includes 28 square miles—we begin at the further points and work our way towards downtown. The decision to delay or cancel must be made by 6 a.m. because the district's buses would begin to depart to pick up students. As we evaluate the roads and conditions at 5:00 a.m. we also must consider what the conditions may be like at the time of dismissal.
When evaluating the roads, we consider how safely cars (and buses) can stop on roads, visibility (fog), conditions of sidewalks and roads for student walkers, weather forecasts for the next eight hours, wind and drifting, temperature and wind chill, how the buses are functioning in sub-zero weather and the progress of city and township road crews. Also, the thought of literally hundreds of teenage drivers navigating roads weighs heavily on the decision-making process. While we want all employees to make it to and from work safely, the decision to delay or cancel school is not done with the staff in mind. Many staff members must and do report on each and every snow day. These decisions are about student safety.
Many people see the main roads (which deservedly get top priority from the State, City and Township road crews) at rush hour and judge the entire school district's road conditions based on their commute at that hour. Unfortunately, not all of our students live on main roads, and we must make the initial decision by 6 a.m. Nearly all of our buses navigate neighborhood streets, country roads, winding roads and roads with steep ditches.
Unfortunately, our school buses are rolling intersections. Bus drivers do not have the luxury of stopping only at intersections (and staying on the main roads) but must travel and stop intermittently on nearly all of the roads in the school district. Students standing on the curb or shoulder of the road rely on the bus being able to stop and then have the oncoming traffic stop while they cross the road to get on or off the bus. Snow-packed or ice-covered roads become quite slick, making stopping a challenge and as a result dangerous. It doesn’t take a great deal of snow to create those conditions.
Every community has a different set of circumstances and challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making the decision.
For transportation directors and superintendents, contending with the weather and road conditions is not limited to the dozen questionable mornings that occur during the year. Evening trips, weekend events and out-of-town contests during the winter are always being discussed and considered. Not only do we monitor the weather locally, but we must also pay attention to the weather of those areas where we are sending students.
Historic PerspectiveWhether we have school or it is closed due to snow, the conversations that have been shared by many to me is that we are much “softer” today than we were a generation ago. Frankly, I too have made that observation. Many have speculated as to why this is, maybe it is the intense media attention on weather, the explosion and rage found 24/7 on social media or the litigious society that we live in today. Just for fun, we went back to 30 years ago.
The graduating class of 1985 experienced cancelations during their high school career:
Year Number of Snow Days
1984-1985 – 5
1983-1984 – 4
1982-1983 – 1
1981-1982 – 6
With the exception of 2014’s record-breaking weather, we have been below the average from 30 years ago for canceling school.
Final ThoughtsWe cannot cancel school every time we get snow or it gets cold. Superintendents who make the decision to have or cancel school due to the weather face an awesome responsibility. I can’t speak for my colleagues but I assume they are haunted by the same thoughts that haunt me on snowy or icy mornings. The hope we all share that everyone makes it in to school and home safely is always in our thoughts. Those observations at 5:30 a.m. are intense and pressure-filled. The greatest fear we all face on a questionable morning is that there could be an accident. We must be prepared to look our community members in the eyes and justify our decision on that day.
In closing I would like to say how deeply we value all of our bus drivers for all they do every day, in all weather, to keep our students safe. I cannot stress enough what an important part of our team our drivers are, and how much their dedication and professionalism are appreciated by our faculty, staff members, students and families.
Thanks for taking the time to read this update. If you have any questions or concerns, please give me a call or email: 419-874-9131 ext. 2103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Monday, October 16, 2017