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 school districts build their school calendars, they account for a certain number of emergency closure days. These days are used for such events as hazardous weather (snow, ice, extreme cold), or plumbing or heating issues that would affect the health or safety of students and staff.
At Fayetteville-Manlius, the district budgeted five emergency closure days for the 2018-19 school year. So far, it has used three of the days districtwide and four at Enders Road Elementary School, one of which was so staff could clean after a small fire at the school.
New York state requires districts to meet a required number of instructional hours per school year. If school closures cause a district to dip below that requirement, vacations might be shortened or the school year extended.
At F-M, if the district cancels classes for a sixth emergency day, school will be in session Friday, May 24. If classes are canceled a seventh day, school will be in session on June 26. Currently, the last day of classes is scheduled for June 25.
District officials know unexpected changes in the regular school day can wreak havoc on families’ schedules and must balance the district’s responsibility to educate students with ensuring their health and safety.
Factors that tip the scale
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes before school leaders make 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?
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.
Winter storms can make for messy road conditions, and the severity of those conditions may vary within district boundaries. While some parts of a district may have little snow and clear roads, another area could get pummeled, slowing road crews as they work to clear streets for safe travel. All roads need to be passable for buses to begin their routes.
Some staff members may not be able to make it to work, causing the district to scramble to find substitutes or other means to properly supervise students.
Extreme cold weather can affect bus operations, delaying when students are picked up.
Students in school are under direct supervision while students at home may not be.
Loss of breakfast and lunch
Some students and their families rely on their schools to provide healthy meals.
Loss of class time
Studies show that even a small number of missed days has an impact on student learning.
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 and presentations and classroom lessons and activities.
These options allow for some flexibility to deal with the timing of a storm and still have an instructional day.
Some information above excerpted from Capital Region BOCES School Communications Portfolio, “‘Why is school closed?’ A guide to school closings.”