I thought I’d share a little about how and why “bad weather” decisions are made to close or delay schools. I’d like to begin with one obvious point: Superintendents are no more capable of predicting weather than the weather “experts” we all listen to. (Truly, I wish we had foresight that matched the 20/20 hindsight of a few Facebook aficionados.)
Though my staff and I consult the National Weather Service, local TV weather reports, city officials, our own bus transportation people, other school districts in the area, and multiple sources depending on the circumstance, we remain captive to uncertainties.
In January 2014, we closed schools on two different days under two different circumstances. In the first instance, there was insufficient information the night before for a solid decision. Some local districts decided to institute a 2-hour delay for the next morning. As it turned out, this did not work out for them. Accidents occurred. A few districts (primarily to the east and south of us) closed schools the night before, believing that the weather pattern put their districts in the epicenter of the predicted ice. Their decision turned out to be a good one. But Pearland was not in that epicenter; thus, the decision was more difficult.
Since the necessity for closing schools remained very uncertain the night before, our transportation director began driving the roads at 3 a.m. on the day in question. He called me at 4:15 a.m. and essentially told me that the roads were not iced over but that it was difficult to predict whether that situation would change in the next few hours. The weather north of us was worse and the storm was moving east rather than south. I asked him to call me back in 30 minutes after I had re-examined weather updates and other data. In the meantime, the transportation director tabulated the number of bus driver absences submitted via computer — by those living outside our area. By 5 a.m., it was clear that areas north of us, regardless of our own weather situation, were impacted such that bus drivers and other staff could not come to work. That made my decision “easy,” and we closed the schools for the day.
The chief criticism received that day was from parents who needed to make daycare arrangements for their children and thought that notification by 5:15 a.m. was too late. One parent said it was “brutal” that she received a wake-up phone call from the school district at 5:15 a.m. I agree that notification the night before is ideal, but cancelling school unnecessarily is an even greater daycare inconvenience for many.
My hat is off to our Communications Department. Based on the department’s preparatory work, our district has an incredible ability to inform thousands within seconds/minutes. We can instantly send TV/radio notifications, parent emails, Facebook/Twitter posts, and recorded voice messages to every household that took the time to submit its contact information. Whether a parent chose to find out through watching TV, reading email, listening to a phone call, examining Facebook or Twitter, reading our website, or listening to the radio, the information was available within seconds of 5:15 that morning. Although we inevitably hear from a few that “no one told them,” such problems are solved by just a little personal initiative (like turning the TV set on or going to our website).
Fortunately, the following week’s decision was easier. By 9:00 on the night before the predicted bad weather event, ALL of the schools in the Houston area, including Pearland, decided to close. Thus, those needing an earlier notification were pleased. Ironically, the weather turned out to be milder than predicted, and it would have been possible to hold school here! Thus, some criticized the decision as unnecessary, made too early (!), and the cause of unnecessary daycare inconveniences.
One other thing: A few wrote it was outrageous that our school district might put their child on a school bus or in their parent’s car when any bad weather was possible. I answer thus: Parents remain completely in charge of such decisions. Even if the schools are open, parents may elect to keep their kids at home. Some in our society seem to forget they have personal responsibility for such decisions. The argument that a child would be “horribly behind” if he missed a day of school is simply untrue. Though we do get after parents/children who are chronically and inexcusably absent, the schools are very understanding about rare absences — and allow make-ups for any assignments/material/tests missed.
In conclusion: In the absence of an accurate crystal ball or a working time machine, we must continue to make imperfect decisions on the weather — and endure the ramifications. I really appreciate the vast majority of people who understand these things.
Perhaps I’m happiest with this thought: Not a single child or staff member was hurt by the decisions made these two difficult days in January. That matters most.