Last year the first snowfall in Lincoln, Nebraska, arrived early in October, so I thought it was appropriate as we approach winter to take a moment to talk about one of the most maddening and controversial decisions a superintendent will make: Snow days.
Calling a snow day is probably not as critical a decision as the ones we make about instruction and budgets, but when weather conditions impact our classrooms they certainly receive as much attention.
First of all, please understand we do not make these decisions lightly. Instructional time for our students is precious, crucial to their academic success, and we do everything in our power to protect and maximize that time. Further, we recognize that when school is cancelled we disrupt the learning schedules and home routines of thousands of students and families.
In the end, however, any decision to close school must be based on one factor and one factor only: the safety of our students and staff. We cannot and will not compromise the well being of our children.
These days it is also important to remember the changing demographics of our community. Currently about 50 percent of our students, preschool through fifth grade, live in poverty (qualify for free and reduced lunch)—45 percent of our total LPS student enrollment. That means we can no longer assume that children walking to school have warm mittens and adequate coats. Nor can we assume that if and when blizzard conditions arrive at the close of a school day, parents will be waiting outside school doors with a warm car. Yes, many students in Lincoln can bundle up, but many do not have the resources, the parental supervision or knowledge to prepare properly.
For these reasons, the people at Lincoln Public Schools who help in making decisions about snow days anguish about this judgment call. There are no hard and fast rules. However, as superintendent of our school district, I will not call a snow day based on a weather forecast. I will call a snow day based on existing weather conditions such as significant snowfall or dangerous wind chills. I will call a snow day based on the city’s ability to make streets passable and our maintenance staff's ability to make our schools accessible and our parking lots clear.
When hazardous weather arrives in our community, we at Lincoln Public Schools will consider the safety of students and the ability of the school buses to get to the schools. We will get out and drive the streets. We will review and examine the conditions of arterials, as well as neighborhood sidewalks and streets—and the conditions at our 61 school sites located throughout Lincoln.
My goal will be to make a decision, at the latest, by 5:30 or 6 a.m. in the morning. And when the decision is made we will send automatic phone messages that reach all of our families and staff members, and we will contact all local radio, TV and newspapers.
We at LPS will make decisions about snow days with thoughtful, well-researched and conscientious practices and procedures. That is our promise to our community.
Published: November 17, 2010, Updated: November 18, 2010