District emergency closure decision making

Closing school is a tough decision to make, especially when there are many variables in play and the safety of students, staff and community members is at stake.

Each year, as district officials build the school-year calendar, they account for a certain number of emergency closure days. These days are used for events such as hazardous weather (snow, ice, extreme cold), or plumbing or heating issues that would affect the health or safety of students and staff during any month of the school year.

At Fayetteville-Manlius, the district budgeted four emergency closure days for the 2022-23 school year, which allows the district to meet New York state’s required number of instructional hours per school year. However, if school closures cause the district to fall below that requirement, vacations might be shortened or the school year extended.

District officials know unexpected changes in the regular school day can wreak havoc on families’ schedules and the district must balance the responsibility to educate students with ensuring their health and safety.

In the event of an emergency closure or delay, the district will notify all parents, guardians and staff via School Messenger, which—depending upon users’ preferences—sends phone, email and text messages. The district will also post the information on the district home page, www.fmschools.org, and notify media outlets.  Decisions are typically made by 5:30 a.m. before the school buses are readied for dispatch.

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes before making the decision to cancel classes, delay the start of school or send students home early.

Student and staff safety is a top priority: Is there a risk to health and well-being that must be considered?  This includes accounting for the road conditions during inclement weather but also whether or not a school cancellation or early dismissal ends up returning the children to potentially empty households either after the morning bus run has already commenced or in the event that the district dismisses early.

Arrival and Dismissal
Keeping an eye on the clock is critical. A decision should be made before buses leave to pick up students, students head out to bus stops or begin walking to school, and parents, students and staff start driving to school.  

Weather Forecasts
The impact of the weather forecast cannot be discounted.  In many cases, the trending meteorological models accurately predict the path and strength of a particular winter storm.  In other instances, variables such as wind may cause lake effect snow bands to shift in one direction or another causing unexpected deterioration of the road conditions.  District officials pay close attention to these predictions including any projections of precipitation, temperature fluctuations, and their impact on student arrival and dismissal.   

Road Conditions
Winter storms can deteriorate road conditions and given the district’s large geographic area and varying elevations, conditions can be highly variable. The district is dependent upon state, county, town, and village road crews as they work to clear streets for safe travel.  At the schools, the district’s Buildings & Grounds Department employs maintenance workers to plow the parking lots and custodians to shovel the entrances for the arrival of the students and staff.

Staff Attendance
Some staff members may not be able to make it to work, resulting in a time constraint to find substitutes or other means to properly supervise students.

Extreme cold weather can affect bus operations, delaying when students are picked up.

Unsupervised Students
Students in school are under direct supervision while students at home may not be. The district takes into consideration whether or not children would return to potentially empty households if the morning bus run has already commenced.

Loss of Breakfast and Lunch
Some students and their families rely on their schools to provide healthy meals.

Loss of Class Time
The school district endeavors to remain open, unless the conditions warrant otherwise, because of the importance of instruction.  Studies show that even a small number of missed days due to closure and/or delayed starts has an impact on student learning.

Scheduled Events
On any school day, there are planned events that would need to be canceled or rescheduled if school is closed, such as after-school activities, sporting events, field trips, exams, assemblies, presentations and classroom lessons and activities.

Delay/Early Release
These options allow for some flexibility to deal with the timing of a storm and still retain a significant portion of the instructional day.

Final Authority
Ultimately, the final decision on whether or not to send children to school rests with the student’s family.  Should parents and guardians feel more comfortable keeping their child/children at home during inclement weather, they reserve the right to do so.  As with any student absence, families should call the student’s school building to inform them that their child(ren) will not be in school.