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How do we decide to close schools?

Parents have often asked how the Superintendent makes “The Call”: the decision on school cancellations and/or delayed openings.

“The Call” to close school is typically made by the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent John Aubin at 5:30 AM based on three factors: feedback from the road crews in Norwich and Hanover; a review of weather outside and weather forecasts; and our degree of confidence that students can get to and from school safely.

When the road crews tell us that roads are hazardous The Call is easy: We take whatever advice they offer. The crews operating the snowplows have firsthand information on driving conditions and a wealth of experience in determining how drivers will be able to navigate the roads.

When substantial snow has accumulated and the forecast calls for more snow, The Call is also fairly straightforward: We tend to cancel. When snow has already accumulated, we not only need to think about driving conditions, we have to be certain we can clear all the entryways and fire exits in the school as well as the sidewalks and parking areas. The combination of observing the weather and reviewing weather forecasts is not fail-safe. In many years of making The Call, we can recall instances where a steady snow at 5:30 AM becomes a cloud-free sunrise despite weather forecasts to the contrary . . . and instances where we’ve gone to bed with no snow forecast only to find six inches on the ground in the morning.

The last part of the equation, our judgment as to whether we can get students to and from school safely, comes into play roughly 1/3 of the time. In exercising our judgment in these situations, we need to be certain that the trips TO school and FROM school are likely to be hazard-free. We know of two occasions where buses slid off the road on a trip home during a snowstorm, and we know of several instances where students and parents had accidents trying to get to and from school on icy or snowy roads. Based on those experiences, we tend to err on the side of caution, preferring to field questions about why we made The Call to close school when “everyone knew the weather would be sunny” as opposed to questions about why we decided to have school when “we should have known roads would be treacherous."

A final reminder: We make a decision to have a two-hour delay to afford time for the road crews to clear the roads. There are occasions when we subsequently learn that we cannot assure safe travel to and from school and end up canceling school. While we appreciate that this often creates complications for families, for the reasons outlined above we feel compelled to err on the side of caution.

We hope this provides parents and community members with a sense of how we make this complicated and sometimes controversial decision.

-- First posted by Superintendent Wayne Gersen in 2008
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