One of the most criticized decision that any Superintendent can make is the decision to declare a snow day or a delay in the school day due to inclement weather.
I have made it a policy to never criticize a Superintendent - as both a parent and a teacher - for these decisions for a number of reasons:
- I believe that every Superintendent is making what he or she believes to be the right call when it comes to inclement weather. No Superintendent in the world wants a child harmed on the way to school. In other words, these difficult decisions are made with the best possible intentions, which is all we can ask of leaders when making decisions involving enormous uncertainty. Complaining about the decision after the fact serves absolutely no purpose. Your complaints will not cause a Superintendent to make a better decision next time. He or she are already trying to make the best possible decision every time already.
- This is a decision involving the weather. Any decision regarding the weather is an incredibly difficult one to make. It's impossible to predict. Thinking that a school official knows what the weather conditions will be with any degree of certainty when the meteorologists are often uncertain is absurd.
- Just as important as the actual road conditions are the sidewalks. Many children walk to school. The roads might look pristine, but if the sidewalks around the schools have not been cleared, a delay may need to be called. Too often people decide if a Superintendent has made a good decision based upon their own limited set of information.
- Superintendents know that for many students, the breakfast and lunch they eat at school are the best and most complete meals of their day. This was the case for me as a child. A snow day often means that children will go hungry that day. This weighs heavily on a Superintendent's mind when making the decision. Even a two hour delay will wipe out breakfast at most schools.
- Snow days and and delays throw families into chaos. Childcare must often be found at the last minute. When it can't be found, children far too young to be left home alone often are. Adults arrive at work late and risk losing their jobs if it happens too often. All of this also weighs heavily on the mind of a Superintendent.
None of this is to imply that safety should be first and foremost in the mind of a Superintendent when making the decision, but he or she must also bring all of these factors to bear when making the call. It's a much more complex decision than I think most people realize.
Here are two more factors that are so often forgotten:
- Parents and colleagues will complain that the roads were unsafe on a given day and that a delay or cancellation was in order, yet when I check at the end of the day, all children across the district have arrived to school safely. No accidents or injuries whatsoever. If every child in the district has arrived to school safely, the right call was apparently made, regardless of how slippery you thought the roads were earlier in the day.
- Teachers should never complain about their drive to school during inclement weather. Snow days and delays are not meant for the safety of adults. My friends who work as lawyers, custodians, IT professionals. doctors, cashiers, and cooks do not get snow days. My buddy who works at ESPN goes to work regardless of the weather. My friend who works as an attorney in Hartford doesn't get the morning off if the roads are slippery. When I worked in banking and in restaurants, I went to work regardless of road conditions. Teachers are professionals and have no business complaining about their drive to work. Snow days are not meant for them.
I recently wrote a piece about the snow days of my youth in my humor column in Seasons magazine. You can check it out here on page 49.