How Do We Decide Whether to Close Schools in Inclement Weather?

We have discussed this information before—including in the January 2014 issue of Currently Colchester—but it bears repeating.

What are the numerous considerations that must be carefully taken into account when determining whether or not to close or delay the opening of schools as a result of weather?

Colchester covers a vast and diverse geographic area; while some streets may appear clear, travel elsewhere in our community may be too dangerous for students and sufficient numbers of faculty and staff members to travel safely. We also must consider the fact that some high school students drive to school.

    • Reports from the bus contractor about whether buses are able to transport students

While buses can drive through snow, downed trees and/or power lines or other vehicle accidents on the roads can prohibit successful transport of students to school. Additionally, many buses must maneuver into tight areas that may be rendered impossible by inclement weather. And snow is not the only concern; ice is always a consideration, and extremely cold temperatures may prevent buses from starting.

    • The ability to provide clear and safe access to school buildings by clearing school parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks

Administrators must work with maintenance and custodial staff to determine whether these areas are safe.

    • The amount of snow and ice that has accumulated and what is expected to accumulate

Administrators must also consider whether the conditions are expected to worsen based upon forecasts.

    • Whether utilities in our buildings—electricity, heat, water, and so on—have been or are expected to be adversely impacted
    • Visibility, temperatures, and wind-chill factors

Some students walk to school, and those who ride buses may have to wait longer at bus stops if buses are delayed.

Who makes the decision?

The decision about whether to close or delay the opening of schools—or to dismiss schools early—belongs to the superintendent of schools. While Superintendent Waters does pay careful attention to the actions of other districts in our area, because Colchester’s weather can vary greatly from the bay area to the hills around the village, he bases his decisions upon the above-mentioned factors as well as upon recommendations from CSD’s business and operations manager, who is in ongoing contact with the Town of Colchester’s Public Works Department, the bus contractor, and CSD’s maintenance foreman during inclement weather.

By when is the decision made, and how is the community notified?

Whenever possible, the decision about whether to close or delay the opening of schools is made by no later than 6:00 a.m. We notify the community of the decision via a number of avenues.

It is important to note that parents always have the right to decide whether they feel travel is unsafe for their child/children and may choose to keep their child/children home during inclement weather.

Why not simply always cancel school during inclement weather?

The impact of numerous snow days upon the end of the school year is never a consideration. Rather, we are sensitive to the fact that school closures can present a number of challenges for parents, particularly with regard to child care; some young students may be without proper supervision during the day if schools are closed. And because an increasing number of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the school day, school closures may also adversely impact these students’ food security. For these reasons, it is important to make as careful a decision about whether to close schools as possible given the information available. Safety of our students and staff is always our first priority.

How can parents and students prepare?

We recommend that all parents have a solid contingency plan in place to manage unexpected school closings and/or delays.

We also recommend that all parents prepare their children for cold and potentially dangerous changing weather conditions by providing warm winter clothing and footwear.

Information about school closings, delayed openings, and early dismissals can also be found on Colchester School District’s website. If you have any questions or would like more information, you may also contact our administrative offices at (802) 264-5999.

Your schools and your town government are working hard to engage our community. Please encourage your friends and family to subscribe to The Spotlight. When we’re all informed, we make a stronger community!

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