To Cancel or Not to Cancel!

Whether or not to cancel school is a complex decision contingent on many factors. There are some superintendents who dread having to make the school/no school decision more than any other decisions they have to make (although, admittedly, I’m not one of them). The ultimate decision is never one made alone or without considerable help. Certainly, superintendents consult with counterparts in neighboring districts. However, the more important consultation is with other officers of the Town.

Last fall, for example, in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, I joined all the Town department heads, the Town Administrator, and public safety officials for ongoing meetings under the Town Emergency Management Director’s, Leo Saidneway’s, chairmanship. We were apprised of the preparations for Hurricane Sandy, the needs of the various town departments, advice from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, predictions from NOAA’s Taunton center, and the directives from the Governor’s office. I canceled school for two days because trees and limbs were down throughout the town. While the Belmont emergency management team never directs me what to do, I’d be foolish to disregard their best advice. Even then, some questioned why we did not resume school by the second day.

For this current February 2013 blizzard, I’ve listened to what my Town colleagues have had to say and, again, had access to the best intelligence by means of Leo Saidneway’s good office. Nonetheless, after using my tracked snowblower to extricate my car from my house in Arlington Heights, I and my wife Sue drove Sunday afternoon through much of Belmont to discover how impacted the side streets and sidewalks were. DPW informed me that it would be impossible to clear all the sidewalks they clean before late afternoon Monday. The call to cancel was actually a fairly easy one to make, but one made only after consulting with the school department’s building and grounds crew and with the Town Administrator.

I always state publicly early in a school year that if the weather is bad and school is nonetheless in session, parents always have a right to keep their students at home. More often the complaints I receive are from stressed parents who need child care and become upset when they only have a few hours notice that schools are canceled. Important to note is that the majority of Belmont school personnel do not live in the town; and some come to work from considerable distances. For those reasons, I try to make a firm decision as soon as possible the afternoon or evening before so that our robo-calls and notices get to people with as much forewarning as possible. Ultimately, the decision to go or stay depends upon my best informed judgment about protecting the safety of our students and teachers. It is always a decision never guaranteed to please everyone.

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