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The Imperfect Science of School Cancellations

Milford Schools Superintendent Robert Tremblay, in a letter to the editor, explains what goes into a decision to delay the start of school, or to cancel schools altogether.

Editor's Note: the following was released on Friday by Milford Schools Superintendent Robert Tremblay. Tremblay on Friday decided to delay the start of the Milford schools, then given the weather conditions, decided to close them altogether for the day. Several other school systems also closed schools, after initially calling for a two-hour delay, including the Mendon-Upton system.

For a school superintendent, the “science” of deciding when to call off school in the face of winter weather is hardly perfect. There are many factors that have to be taken into consideration when deciding to hold school – or not - but above all, the safety of children is the number one concern for anyone who bears the responsibility of making this very important decision.

The Highway Department or Departments of Public Works, depending on the community, play a critical role in the decision-making process. From the moment the first snowflake touches ground, their efforts are aimed at keeping the roadways clear and sidewalks (if available) passable – two of the most important elements in safely getting children to and from school. Equally important is the networking that takes place among area superintendents – often in the middle of the night - and their respective town road officials, transportation directors, and others who, in most cases, work together to make the most informed decision possible.

The decision-making process often spans from the late night forecast to the early morning weather report. And even with a forecast, the conditions can change at any time. The decision to delay the start of school or cancel altogether is taken very seriously. In Milford, for example, I confer with the Milford Police Department with regard to safe travel and whether there are travel-related issues such as automobile crashes, vehicle skidding or sliding off of the roadway, etc. Because resources and roadways differ greatly between communities, neighboring school districts may make decisions that are not in sync with one another – but superintendents within the region are well-informed about what each other is doing.

While it is no doubt understood, it should be stated that a delayed start to the school day or a school cancellation affords everyone more time. The road crews have more time to clear overnight snow and prepare sidewalks, families have more time to get their children to school, and staff members have more time to make the commute to work. To put the snow removal process in context for the Town of Milford, for example, it takes the highway department four hours to plow all the schools one time, the same amount of time it takes to plow the entire town one time with less than six inches of snow on the ground. In addition, it takes highway department personnel six hours to clear all the sidewalks one time in a storm with six inches of snowfall. This is all factored into the decision to delay or cancel school.

As a matter of law and unlike a school cancellation, a delayed start does not impact the 180-day requirement for school attendance in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The day is counted and there is no obligation to make up missed time. On a practical level, however, safety remains paramount and a superintendent would most certainly elect to cancel and make up the day at the end of the school year before putting a child, parent, staff member, bus driver, or anyone in harm’s way.

In my experience as a school superintendent, I can assure you that every school chief in the region strives to make the most informed decision that they possibly can when it comes to opening school during inclement weather. With imperfect information and the risk of ever-changing weather patterns, sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t – but we always keep the safety of our children as the most important consideration of all.

unclkebuck March 09, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Good job Bob, thanks!
Robin L. Reardon March 09, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Hahahahaha Tony, good one!
Robin L. Reardon March 09, 2013 at 04:05 PM
A situation like this is not a normal occurance. I feel that Mr. Trembley put a conscious effort and consideration into his decision. Unfortunately some decisions made will inconvenience someone somewhere. I have had my share of inconveniences between childcare, work obligations, school cancellations, etc., (and will for some years to come) but we all must somehow figure out what to do next when this happens. Complaining about those decisions are not going to help with what we must now do to accomadate.
Robin L. Reardon March 09, 2013 at 04:10 PM
Colleen I 100% agree with you. People are just reacting out of anger and frustration. Mr. Trembley certainly has his hands full trying to balance school attendence obligations with public safety and the safety of our children. He has a huge responsibilty and his decisions are not always easy OR well received. Great job Mr. Trembley!
Matt Fitzgerald March 12, 2013 at 12:05 AM
So Ginger, it sounds as if your issue is with the fact that the decision impacted your work day. So which is it? Child safety or two incomes?

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