Closing or Delaying School for Inclement Weather
Closing or Delaying School for Inclement Weather: A Most Challenging Decision
One of my least favorite responsibilities as Superintendent of Schools is making the decision regarding school delays or cancellations. And yet, given the geographical location of our school District, inclement, wintry weather will always be a seasonal challenge.
Because it is that time of the year again, I want to share a few thoughts about the process that is utilized in making inclement weather-related decisions in Northwestern Lehigh. Hopefully, this information will inform you about our process and minimize the frustration associated with not knowing how decisions are made.
In much the same manner as everyone else, we learn about approaching weather conditions from television, radio and computer reports. We also subscribe to a weather service that provides a personalized weather report, unique to Northwestern Lehigh. Once the weather alert occurs, the District begins to make preparations.
If the weather front is occurring in the evening or overnight, the District administrators will drive roads in the District to gain a visual perspective of the physical conditions at approximately 4:00 am. First, they will check the roads that are typically the most problematic. As you know, from north to south, our school District spans roughly 110 square miles and varies greatly in road and weather conditions. At the same time, we will be speaking with the municipalities and PennDOT about plowing/cindering/salting schedules. We plan for the cleaning of buses and grounds, parking lots, and sidewalks to prepare for opening school. We also speak to key personnel in surrounding school Districts to ascertain any information that may be helpful.
Typically, by 5:00 am, we will have gathered all of the most current information that is available. This information is coupled with our knowledge of Northwestern Lehigh School District demographics which include:
- The number of bus stops and miles traveled by Northwestern buses
- Weather conditions vary greatly across the District
- Our buses will be operating within the typical traffic flow
- Many of our bus stops may be affected by snow plowing
- Student drivers that drive to school
- Time needed to plow parking lots, clear walkways, and clear buses from ice/snow
Based upon all the data and knowledge we have about impending weather conditions and District demographics, I typically make a decision by 5:00 am to open on time, delay, or close our schools. The decision must be made by this time because routine schedules have staff members arriving for duty as early as 6:00 am.
Once I make this decision regarding a delay or cancellation, we will send a message via Blackboard Connect to all of our families and employees on our “outreach” contact list. The “outreach” messages typically go to the first phone and email on your list unless you’ve designated otherwise. When we have a two-hour delay, AM LCTI students do not attend LCTI. For early dismissals that are launched during the school day, we will use the “emergency” contact list which sends to each contact within the system. If your phone contact information has changed, please log in to the Blackboard Connect account and make changes to your selections.
Once the decision is made and the message is sent, the radio and television stations are notified. The message is also posted at the top of our District web page, and on the District Twitter and Facebook page.
On most of these occasions we will make ONE decision early in the morning to close or to delay, and that will be final for the day. We believe one call is better for most parents as you make plans for the day. Once in a great while, the timing of a weather event is such that buying a little extra time with a delay MIGHT allow us to safely open school. In these rare events, the message will state that we will provide an update by a certain time. The same means of communication will be used to provide an update when necessary.
This information is being shared to provide you with some insight into what happens behind the scenes during bad weather events in Northwestern Lehigh. Please know that there is a great deal of detail that goes into each decision and student safety is the central focus. Entrusted with the safety of over 2200 students, we will err on the side of caution and student safety in making weather-related decisions. These decisions are not taken lightly.
As you are all aware, these are difficult decisions to decide with changing weather conditions, country roads, areas of elevation, type of precipitation, and weather that does not comply with our time frames. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. Let’s hope for a mild winter and an early spring!
Jennifer L. Holman, Superintendent of Schools