“How we make the decision to close school”- Superintendent responds to recent snowdays

Plowing the RoadBy Social Media Editor: Cassie Bondie

Monday, January 27, the talk of Howell High School was why the students were, in fact, in school.

Much community talk has also centered around Howell’s recent snow-days and how the decision to close school is made by administration members.

Later that evening, Mr. Ron Wilson, the Howell Public Schools superintendent, responded to these concerns in a letter posted on the Howell Public School district page and website.

How We Make the Decision to Close School

Dear Parents,

Needless to say we are experiencing a winter unlike any we have seen since the late 70’s. It is not even February and we have already canceled five school days for weather related events. I have recently received several parent contacts inquiring how the decision to close is made. My first response is to look out for the safety of our students.

School is most frequently closed for “conditions not within the control of school authorities such as severe storms, fires, health conditions and infrastructure issues.” The two most common reasons to cancel school are for building issues (power outages, leaks, etc.) or weather related issues. Canceling school due to power outages is an easy decision; it’s the weather related ones that can be difficult. Several of our transportation staff spends time driving the roads, sometimes as early as 3:30 a.m., to determine whether road conditions are such that our buses can safely transport students. Our district covers 167 square miles and encompasses both paved and dirt roads. Often the main roads are fine but the back roads and subdivision roads are treacherous.

While our staff is driving roads, conference calls with other county superintendents and the Road Commission take place to share and discuss current and predicted weather conditions. You may see that some schools in the county close when we do not and that’s because of the varied conditions throughout Livingston County. For example, the roads in the Fowlerville District may have excessive drifting while ours are accessible.

When making the decision to cancel school, I am keenly aware parents need as much time as possible to make arrangements for childcare. There are times this decision can be made the prior evening when conditions are so bad that it’s apparent there will be little change in the morning. However, that is not always the case, and I try to make the morning decision as early as possible to notify parents and staff.

The most recent cancellation was the result of dangerously low temperatures, especially with the wind chill factor. The threshold is usually if the temperature with wind chill factor is minus 20 degrees below zero. While subzero temperatures may only be an inconvenience for motorists, these conditions are extremely dangerous for our children walking to school or standing at bus stops, especially when area traffic conditions create bus delays. Once the decision is made, I notify the media stations, staff and parents through our automated notification system and post the notice on our website and social media sites.

The Michigan Department of Education makes allowances for six Act of God days for weather related school closures; anything beyond that usually requires makeup days. In years past, the Governor has “forgiven” more than that and/or districts can make an appeal to the MDE. While the Governor has the authority, he most likely would not announce this until the spring. If this comes to pass, I will notify parents as soon as we have an indication of whether we have to make up the days. For this current year, we have already used five days at all schools except Parker (six days) and Hutchings (six days). I hope this information is helpful.

Ronald C. Wilson