School & District Management

The Science of School Closures

By Dakarai I. Aarons — December 10, 2009 1 min read
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Superintendents have a lot of tough calls to make on the job, but few are as headache-inducing as deciding if and when to close school because of bad weather.

No matter the decision, any veteran school leader will tell you, someone will be unhappy. (Certainly not the students, who love snow days!)

Many school leaders found themselves having to close school this week, as snow dumped on parts of the Midwest, bringing below-zero temperatures. Last week, Houston recorded the earliest snowfall in its history, forcing the district and many around it to close.

As a group of superintendents recently told The Grand Rapids Press’ Dave Murray, they often have to make the decision to close school in the wee hours of the morning, well before the full extent of the weather is known. In most places, this decision has to be made before 5 or 6 a.m. so parents will see the closure on morning TV shows and newspaper Web sites before sending kids out into the frigid cold.

When closing early, administrators do consider the hardship that finding last-minute childcare can cause for parents.

“If I decided to keep schools open, I’m guaranteed to get calls all day from people asking, ‘Who’s the brain surgeon who decided to keep schools open today?’” one former superintendent told Murray. “And if I close them, I get the same kind of calls.”

Administrators in Fairfax County, Va. have put together this video to help explain how they decide to close schools for inclement weather.

Among the factors Fairfax administrators look at are the condition of sidewalks and the size of their county-wide school district, which means some parts of the district are covered with snow and ice while others have a light rain.

How does your district handle school closures? Which ways have proven most effective in communicating to parents ?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.