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A Message from the Superintendent: How a Snow Day Decision is Made


(December 16, 2016) - Yesterday, a few folks called in and inquired as to how I make a decision regarding a snow day. I thought it would be beneficial if I explained the thinking and the process that goes into making such a decision.

The first step in making a snow day decision occurs at about 4:00 a.m. when my computer is booted up, and I wait to receive the National Weather Service’s Briefing Book for our region. You can find a copy of the book at http://www.weather.gov/bgm/briefingMain. This book provides a detailed description of the day’s projected weather activity. Additionally, by typing in the zip codes of the various villages and towns in our district, you can get active weather reports and updates regarding weather advisories, watches, and warnings. This information is then coupled with reports from the website Weather Underground https://www.wunderground.com/. These two sites make up the bulk of the weather related information that I evaluate most mornings from the end of November to the beginning of April. Also, as a resident of the Village of Union Springs myself, living less than a mile from our bus garage, middle school/high school, and A.J. Smith Elementary, I am aware of the plow activity and traffic situation in the early morning hours.

After collecting the weather data, at about 5:15 a.m., I consult with our Director of Transportation, Andrea Lang. By this time, she has consulted with the various village, town, and county highway superintendents regarding the conditions of the roads and their projections about how much time they need to get ahead of a snow event. If they request an additional hour, then a one-hour delay is issued, if they request two hours to plow, then a two-hour delay is issued, and if they need more than two hours, I will cancel school.

Our district is approximately 88 square miles in size, and weather does not fall evenly upon all areas of the district. It could be snowing in Fleming and sunny in Union Springs. Thus, these reports really do matter, and sometimes people cannot understand why a snow day is called when they live in one part of the district where the weather seems perfectly fine. However, if our Director of Transportation notes from her discussions with the highway superintendents that the roads are open and the plows are caught up with the storm, our conversation next turns to the condition of our bus fleet. In the early morning hours, our bus mechanics arrive at the bus garage and begin a safety check of our busses, making sure that they turn over, that they are running well, and fuel additives if needed, are given to the fleet. This process is usually complete by about 5:30 a.m. 

At about 5:30 a.m. the nine superintendents in the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES begin talking and consulting with one another about various reports regarding snow projections, road conditions, and reports regarding travel advisories from the Cayuga County Sherriff’s office. We talk throughout the remainder of the early morning because many of our students attend BOCES, and some of our special education students have placements in schools in other districts. Thus, if a critical mass of our students are not attending BOCES, and it is closed, or if we have to adjust our bus drivers’ schedules to accommodate weather delays in other districts, this sharing of information is critical.

By 6:00 a.m., our bus drivers begin to report for work. Their drive in also provides real-time data regarding road conditions. Our bus drivers are exceptional, and they know better than anyone what our bus fleet is capable of during the harsh Central New York winters. Their reports also factor into my thinking. If they have any hesitation, that information is relayed to me, and I make the call on a delay or school closure.

Further, I get additional data from our facilities department regarding the condition of our heating system and power. If those systems are not working properly, that would result in a delay or school closure as well.

In all of this, the safety and welfare of our children are of paramount importance. Information about the weather and the timing of weather events, the condition of the roads, the decisions of other school superintendents, law enforcement’s statements about travel restrictions, and the condition of our facilities, all are evaluated, and a decision is reached before 6:30 a.m. when our first bus leaves the bus garage for student pick-up on the high school run.

 One other factor that I consider is the fact that 37% of our students qualify for free and reduced school breakfast and lunch. When school is closed, the chance of these students to go hungry certainly increases.

The decision to close a school is never an easy thing to do. Weather shifts, projections change, and sometimes the forecasters do not always get it right. But please know that the decision I reach is done with the most-timely information given to me by a host of professionals.  In the end, even after the decision to open or close school is made, please know that the ultimate decision as to whether or not a student attends or does not attend school on these days rests with you, the parents and guardians of our students.

I thank you for your interest in this topic and look forward to warmer days ahead! Have a great holiday season!

Jarett Powers
Superintendent
Union Springs Central School District
 

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UNION SPRINGS CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Jarett S. Powers, Superintendent
239 Cayuga Street
Union Springs, New York 13160
Phone: 315 889-4101
Fax: 315 889-4108

www.unionspringscsd.org


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