“It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer’” (Williams 1963). That is unless you are traversing snow covered roads to determine the answer to the time-honored line credited to William Shakespeare, “To have school or not to have school, that is the question.” (Later translated “To be or not to be, that is the question.”)
All joking aside, the safety of our student body is our number one priority. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. To live in West Michigan is to experience the unpredictable nature of our weather on a regular basis. We recognize that while students may be excited for a snow day, school closings and delays are a challenge for many of our parents as they work to rearrange schedules and identify childcare for the day. The intent of this communication is to share information concerning how our district’s characteristics and protocols help determine the answer to the question, “To have school or not to have school.”
While not an exact science, the process to determine the safety of road conditions and inclement weather is exhaustive. With the anticipation of adverse weather conditions on the horizon, monitoring of conditions begins immediately. Most of the time, assessing inclement weather conditions and communication takes place between the transportation department, neighboring districts, the road commission, and the sheriff's department (when required).
The following is an example of our protocol: At 4:30 a.m. the Director of Transportation, Director of Maintenance (coordinating plow crews), and the Superintendent begin assessing road conditions. These individuals drive different areas of the district to determine conditions such as: 1) passability, 2) drifting, 3) ice, 4) quantity of snowfall, and 5) wind chill. Also, while weather forecasts can often be askew, watches and warnings of future snowfall and conditions may be additional information used. While driving, hands-free devices are used to contact other officials and authorities to discuss their assessment of conditions.
With our bus drivers beginning their routes at 6:10 a.m., every effort is made to “make the call” before 5:45 a.m. At times (especially with fog or ice), there are occasions where our drivers are mid-way through their routes before the event warrants a delay or cancellation. In these instances, we communicate with our drivers to use extreme caution and not to concern themselves with arriving on time. Ultimately, we honor our parents’ decision to keep their children home if they feel conditions are unsafe where they live in the district.
Once the decision is made that school will be delayed or canceled, we immediately begin communicating with our parents and staff. The first call is to our Director of Technology. That person immediately initiates our school messenger system and contacts local media outlets. We simultaneously place the message on our school website and social media outlets (our district’s Facebook page or Twitter @nceglarek).
We begin each morning with the expectation of having school. It isn't until conditions are such that we believe our busses and student and parent drivers would be placed in a dangerous situation that we cancel school or events. And while the rumors abound that I used to live in Alaska, drive a Hummer, and never close school, please know that “To have school or not to have school” is a question that we toil over and attempt to make the best decision possible (and no, I have never been to Alaska nor have I ever driven a Hummer).
Dr. Nick Ceglarek, Superintendent