Winter weather protocol a challenge for school districts

by Corey Holland

UNcommon Sense

Corey Holland, Superintendent of Marlow Public School District

Students are not in school this week as the district is closed for Thanksgiving Break. While this break has been on the district calendar for some time now, November often is the beginning of poor weather conditions in Oklahoma.

Typically, in the decision to close the school for weather we are not afforded a great deal of advanced notice. This being the case, I thought this week’s article would be a good time to share our decision-making process in these situations. The top priority for any decision is student and staff safety. While I am sure we can all agree on that standard, making this decision based on early weather predictions becomes difficult.

As we recently just experienced, the early weather forecast had our area receiving two to four inches of snow. There were also predictions of ice conditions on our roads. Certainly, that type of forecast catches my attention and we began to anticipate our course of action. In this most recent case, as it turned out, we got lots of rain but no real snow or ice. Had we called off school due to the early forecast, we ultimately would have made the wrong decision.

Another priority I consider is any time we close school it often creates hardships for parents and guardians in terms of childcare. This is no small concern which makes advance notice even more important for planning purposes. Therefore, when given the opportunity, I will always try to make the call on whether or not we are going to cancel school by 6 p.m. the night before. Certainly, if I am able this will be done much earlier.

My preference is to not make the decision the morning of a school day even though all of us with children loved getting that news in the morning. Again, if the decision to close were to occur last minute it would be due to unforeseen weather circumstances forcing the decision.

Some districts sometimes utilize late start days (running buses 2 hours later than normal) or early release to deal with weather issues. As a practice, I prefer not to utilize this for bad weather as it can often lead to lots of confusion and timing issues for our bus routes and student pick-up. At the same time, as a parent or guardian, it is always your right to choose to deliver a student late on poor weather days or to pick them up early if you have concerns on potential weather (snow/tornadoes) conditions.

If it becomes necessary for the district to cancel school, we will put this notification out to parents and guardians through our notification call and email system. This is why it is vital when a parent or guardian changes a phone number or email, you contact the school to update this information. The district will also share a school closing decision with local news stations, district ran social media applications, and on the state school closing notification system. I would encourage you to check with one or more of these to ensure you have accurate information. We find any time there is potential for closures there are those individuals who share rumor or inaccurate information.

We certainly do not want the situation more complicated so checking on official notifications is always a good idea. Predicting Oklahoma weather is not a way I would choose to make a living. As we all know, advanced weather forecasts often miss the mark. While I will use advance forecasts to start planning, I will rely more on 24 -36 hours out to make canceling decisions.

Like weather forecasters, I am sure I will make the wrong decision at some point so let me apologize in advance for that reality. I will close by sharing my thanks to this community for allowing me to lead the district as Superintendent. I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to working alongside our staff and students. I hope you and your family are able to enjoy some time together to rest, relax, and enjoy a wonderful meal this Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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