This week Mother Nature gave us an early taste of winter and reminded us that we need to dig through our closets to find our boots, take a little more time when traveling on icy roads, and prepare ourselves for those colder January and February days to come. Depending on your perspective and responsibilities, the possibility that school will be cancelled leaves community members with very strong feelings. As a school administrator I have discovered that there is seldom a correct answer to the question: should we cancel school today because of the weather? No one in our school community is agnostic about this question.
When a forecast of heavy winter weather is announced many students in our community spend the night participating in the traditional sacrifices to the snow gods — going to sleep with their pajamas turned inside out, spoons under their pillow, the ritual dance around the bed, and large amounts of ice cubes spinning down the toilets in homes throughout the city. Some even resort to emailing, sending twitter suggestions, or texting the Head of School. Parents who need to go to work, no matter what the weather conditions, depend on the school for child care, and worry about the need for last minute planning. I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., resigned to the notion that I may have to activate the Weather Alert system. All of us ponder questions of safety and read weather advisories and warnings as guide posts for how to act.
The two messages I want our community to know are: first, we go through a very thoughtful process before making the decision to close or stay open, and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we respect your decision as a parent to keep your child at home when you determine that conditions are not safe for your child to travel to school.
Unlike many schools whose names scroll across the television screen announcing they have closed, Roeper does not depend on school bus transportation for our children to travel to and from school. With the few exceptions of students using public transportation, our students are not waiting on the corner for a bus. Many public school districts factor bus travel and the time a student spends waiting for a bus into their decision making when choosing to close. Because the vast majority of our students travel to school by car we must use a different set of criteria in our decision making.
Roeper families travel from over thirty different communities spread out over a significant geographical area. Weather in Southeastern Michigan may be very different in each of these communities. The choice of a family who lives in Birmingham may be very different than a family traveling from Northern Oakland, Wayne, or Macomb County. The School will make a decision in a timely manner to give families guidance, but only you can decide what the right decision is for you and your family.
When making the decision to keep the school open or to close we review the following:
- Facilities – Do we have heat, are the utilities functional?
- Access – Have the walks, parking lots, and area roads been adequately plowed and salted for us to access the campuses?
- Shuttle – Is the bus between campuses operational given the weather conditions?
- Food Service – Is our food service provider able to deliver and serve lunch to both campuses?
- Area Conditions – What are the general travel conditions now, during the school day, at dismissal, and in the evening (given after school activities/events)?
- Resources – What information can we glean from conversations with other school leaders in the area (Birmingham, and Bloomfield Hills Public Schools, Cranbrook, DCD, Sacred Heart, Eton, etc…), meteorologists, bus drivers, local news, and our maintenance team, who drive to campuses and attempt to prepare the facilities before a decision is made.
After gathering all of this information, we will make a decision before 6:00 a.m., and use our Emergency Alert call system to notify the community of the decision. When possible we will make the call the night before, however, most frequently the decision is made the morning of the weather event.
I wish I could categorically tell you that in the weeks, and months to come we will not have snow days, cold days, or weather related decisions – however this is Michigan, and I can say with some certainty that this will be an annual issue. What I can say with absolute certainty is that we take our responsibility for the care and safety of our students very seriously. As always, we respect your decision to assess your situation and needs.