Writer & Photographer / Jim Eichelman
Brrrr. The season of nasty winter weather is upon us. Snow, ice, sleet, wind, bitter cold, freezing rain … central Indiana has it all. It makes travel and commuting a frustrating and dangerous affair. Decisions routinely must be made about closing facilities or canceling events. At the top of the list of those who must make these decisions are schools who must decide (often with limited information and little warning) whether it is in the best interest of the students to attend school or not.
It’s About the Kids
At the Center Grove School Corporation, the decision process starts as soon as school officials become aware of predicted bad weather. When asked what criteria are used to determine if school should be canceled or delayed, Dr. Richard Arkanoff, superintendent, indicates “first and foremost, the safety of our kids.”
Included in that concern is the safety of staff that must make the trek into their jobs. A second consideration is the impact that closure or delay has on parents. Finally, the administration must consider the impact of missing a day of instruction. “Those are probably the big things that run through my head,” says Dr. Arkanoff.
The Superintendent believes that buses are probably the safest way to get to school. They are constantly maintained and equipped to handle a variety of road conditions, including snow and ice, and the drivers are well trained. However, students who ride the bus may find themselves having to walk in the street to get to the bus stop, due to plowed snow and uncleared sidewalks blocking their path, so this must be considered.
Middle school age students are also a concern. Middle school is where students “begin to think of coats as a suggestion,” jokes Dr. Arkanoff. But students being appropriately dressed to wait for a bus in bitter cold weather is a serious concern. Finally, most high school students drive to school, and many of them are first-time drivers. They may lack experience driving on snow and ice, so a school closure or delay decision can make a difference in whether a young driver is placed in a dangerous driving situation.
Decision Needs to be Made Early
When a decision is made to close or delay the opening of school, parents may well find themselves in a dilemma. Many do not have the luxury of taking an unplanned day off (often without pay) or working from home. A decision to close or delay can force a very difficult decision on parents.
Extracurricular activities must also be factored into decisions. Many sports and clubs meet before school hours. This can force decisions to be made quite early, perhaps with data that is not as timely as it could be, in order to get word to these students. The swim team is a great example of a group that must get early notice. If not notified of closure or delay by a little after 5 a.m., the swimmers may already be on their way to practice. So Dr. Arkanoff says, “My first call is always to the swim coach.”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bill Long and Director of Operations Rick Pederson and their teams use sources such as Weather.com, The Weather Channel and the National Weather Service to gather information about the predicted course of weather events. Local law enforcement and the county highway department are also sources of data about current and predicted road conditions. Operations staff and administrators also begin as early as 4 a.m. to drive local roads themselves in order to assess local road conditions.
The Superintendent participates in a conference call (at approximately 5 a.m.) with all other superintendents in the county to compare information and discuss how different districts are planning on handling the weather event. Finally, the Operations Director and Assistant Superintendent make a consensus recommendation to Dr. Arkanoff, and the decision to close, delay or remain open rests with him.
One Size Does Not Fit All
One topic discussed among parents is the apparent discrepancy between different school systems. For example, Greenwood schools may hold classes as normal, but Center Grove delays two hours or closes for the day. Many factors such as geography, population density and miles of roadway to be cleared can drive different decisions between systems that are primarily in-city and others with more rural roadways and geography. Each district makes the decision that is best for them, but all systems are aware of the data driving the decisions of the rest.
Center Grove uses the School Messenger System to communicate delay and closure information using contact preferences recorded in the Skyward system. The school’s social media channels, website and local TV and radio stations are also notified. By the time this article prints, CG will also be using a new system with its own smartphone app that will provide closure information as well as things such as the real-time location of buses on their routes and estimated bus arrival time at their specific bus stop. Check school notifications about the use of this app.
So rest assured, when the wind blows and the snow falls, Center Grove school administrators are working hard to make the best decision for your children.