Decision to cancel, delay school isn’t easy
Cranberry Bureau Chief
Written by:
By J.W. Johnson Jr.,
January 6, 2018

Students returning to school following the holiday break this week have been granted a bit of a respite, as snow and single-digit temperatures have forced delays and cancellations in many local districts.

The decision to delay classes doesn’t come easy, however, as school officials are watching the weather around the clock before making the call.

“Calling a snow or extreme temperature delay or closure is certainly not an easy decision to make, and it’s one that is done with careful consideration and input,” said Linda Andreassi, communications director for the Seneca Valley School District.

More often than not administrators are reviewing data the night prior and getting a general outlook for the following day. According to Wes Shipley, Mars School District superintendent, that homework also includes speaking with superintendents from other districts to determine their often-changing plans.

The real work begins at about 4 a.m., when the districts send crews out to monitor the roads. They also listen to reports from municipal workers, who are typically working at that hour to clear the roads before the morning commute.

“We monitor many data points,” Andreassi said. “The type of storm ... type of accumulation ... predicted accumulation, temperature, wind chill, wind speed and duration of the storm. We consult with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, especially their hour-by-hour predictions, our buildings and grounds department, local authorities, our transportation company and neighboring school district superintendents.”

For days with low temperatures but no snow accumulation Shipley said he monitors true air temperature and wind chill. Both he and Andreassi said a baseline of minus-10 degrees exists for monitoring the temperature, and officials also pay attention to weather alerts and advisories.

“A weather alert takes precedence,” Shipley said. “I’m also looking to see if there is a warming effect as opposed to is there not. A delay for cold allows for looking at the prospect of it warming up enough later once the sun is up.”

That warming effect — or lack thereof — can make the difference between a delay or cancellation, Shipley said. A decision for delay is typically made by 5:15 a.m., with a cancellation decision made by 7:15 a.m. Shipley and Andreassi both said cold weather delays and cancellations are always made with the safety of students in mind.

“As the chief educator of the district, I try to decide if we can have school in a safe way,” he said.

However, that judgment call doesn’t override decisions made by parents who may feel it is too cold for their children to make the trek to class.

“I think it’s also important to remind parents that they always have the option of keeping their child home if they feel the weather or weather conditions are unsafe,” Andreassi said.

Shipley agreed.

“Parents have the right to disagree with me and keep their children home,” he said, adding the day would be marked as an excused absence for students who don’t generally have attendance issues.

Though a decision is made by early morning, Shipley said the communication doesn’t stop there. He said he remains in contact with superintendents from neighboring districts, who may have come to a different conclusion despite similar conditions.

“I let them know that maybe I had to cancel because a salt truck broke down and a road isn’t clear,” he said, adding that information is useful for answering questions from district residents and allows for consistency in future decision making.