A note from the Superintendent’s Desk – Jan 27, 2016

By Dr. Darcy Benway, Superintendent District 203

It’s that time of year when students wait anxiously by the telephone to hear those magical words, “Snow Day.”  Below are some frequently asked questions and answers as to how schools address inclement weather:

Q:  When (What time) is the decision made to cancel school?

The following provides guidelines for providing notification of a school closing:

Closing the Morning of School:  All information is gathered and the decision is typically made around 5:40 so that notification of the closing can be viewed on the web site prior to the first OTHS bus stop pick-up at 5:55 am.

Closing the Night Before:  The decision to cancel school is typically made no later than 9:00 pm so that notification of the closing can be viewed on the 10:00 pm news.

The decision to close school is always made at the earliest reasonable time. The automated calling system in activated once the decision is made.  Please note the automated calling system must call nearly 8,000 numbers when OTHS sends an “all call” to our employees and students.  It is important that families not rely on the automated calling system as the only source of information, as there is always the possibility of a system delay in calling or a technical difficulty.  Please always check other sources for notification (news media and district web site) on days of inclement weather.

Q:  What factor(s) determine when school will be cancelled?

Each school district has unique circumstances to evaluate when making the decision to cancel school.   Considerations common to OTHS are as follows:

Road Conditions

•  In general, are the roads safe for travel?

•  Are the roads safe for bus traffic?

•  Can school busses adequately maneuver?

•  Are the roads safe for young, high school age drivers?

Parking Lot Conditions

•  Are school parking lots clear for drivers?

•  Can drivers safely walk from lots to entrances?

Bus stops/Sidewalks

•  Do students have a safe place to wait for the bus?

•  Are sidewalks clear so that students have safe access to bus stops?

•  Are students able to access sidewalks to walk safely to school?

Temperatures/Wind Chill

Windchill Chart edited

•  Are wind chill temperatures safe for students as they walk to school or wait at bus stops?

•  Are wind chill temperatures so extreme that automobile and bus reliability is in question?

•  OTHS uses a -30 degree wind chill as a benchmark to cancel school as indicated by the red line on the National Weather Service chart above.     The district may cancel school for wind chills less than -30 degrees if other factors are present that impact safety.

Facilities

•  Are facilities suitable for use given the weather condition?

•  What are possible or probable issues for the facility given the weather conditions?

Weather

•  What are current weather conditions?

•  What is the weather forecast?

•  What issues will incoming weather potentially create?

   Other School Districts and Cooperatives

•  What decisions are being made by other area school districts?

•  How will their decision impact shared services, common classrooms, or shared events?

This list is not all inclusive, but it provides an idea of the issues that are considered when making the decision to cancel school.

At all times, the safety and well-being of our students and employees governs all decision-making regarding school closures.  OTHS will always err on the side of safety when making a decision.

Q:  Is there a delayed start schedule that OTHS uses when there is inclement weather?

OTHS does not have a delayed start schedule.  If there is inclement weather that results in safety concerns, school will be cancelled.

A delayed start time for the school day would necessitate a reduction of instructional minutes for various class periods during the day.  This reduction of class time would interfere with planned educational lessons.  Tests, labs, or other instructional activities may not have adequate time to be completed during the shortened class period, thus creating the inability to meet educational objectives as scheduled.  It is believed a delayed start to the school day is more detrimental to the learning sequence than to simply cancel school and reschedule the day in its entirety.  OTHS places the emphasis on learning, rather than just getting a day of school in the books.  In addition, transportation/bussing considerations make a delayed start schedule less desirable.

Q:  Why are students allowed to practice or compete in extracurricular activities when school has been cancelled?

Decisions to cancel extracurricular practices or competitions are made independently of the decision to cancel school.  Road and weather conditions change rapidly.  A decision made at 5:45 am may have very different conditions to evaluate when compared to a decision made much later in the day.  Sometimes a game or event is cancelled by the opposing team or host school, thus eliminating OTHS from the decision-making process.

If school is cancelled due to inclement weather and practices are able to be held later in the day, those practices will always be optional.  Students will not be penalized if they are unable to make practices on a snow day.  Coaches understand that some students live in more rural areas or have only 2-wheel drive vehicles, thus making travel more difficult.  Coaches also understand that some students may not be able to attend practices on snow days because they provide care for younger siblings.

Again, the safety and well-being of our students and employees guides all decision-making regarding practices and competitions during times of inclement weather.  The District understands that parents and guardians always have the option of keeping a student home if the District’s decision-making in regard to inclement weather differs from their own.

Thank you again for your understanding during the challenges of the winter season.