Damned if they do. Damned if they don’t.
That’s what runs through my mind every time weather impacts school schedules. Administrators need to have a thick skin to tolerate the second guessing and criticisms that come with their decisions.
Despite computer models, satellites and predictions from scientists, what actually transpires for weather can be dramatically different than what was forecast. On the Cape those differences can occur from one neighborhood to the next.
The first time I experienced this was 2008. We were new to East Sandwich. The Upper Cape was expecting a little mixed precipitation. I headed out the door into a steady rain for the 7-mile jaunt to CVS on Tupper Road. Out on 6A, less than a half-mile from my house, I encountered a slushy mess. Approaching the village, the ground was blanketed in icy crystals and the roads were slick. There was no mixing downtown, just sleet.
The store’s photo-processing was out of order, so I ventured over to the CVS on Quaker Meetinghouse. By the time I reached Cotuit Road there were several inches of snow on the ground and not a plow in sight. I called the school administration office to inquire about early dismissal. The secretary shared that several other parents had called from different parts of town with the same concerns. What was happening outside her window was very different than what was going on over in Forestdale and South Sandwich.
That afternoon some buses were delayed for hours. Many couldn’t traverse icy roads, so students had to be dropped off far from their regular stops. The intensity of the storm and widespread inconsistency in conditions caught everyone by surprise. We had never experienced anything like it before, but have many times since.
At that time everyone learned about school cancellations or delayed openings by listening to the radio or watching the scrolling chyron at the bottom of the TV screen. At some point the “all call” system was implemented, but by then kids were usually already informed via a text from a friend in the know.
There was less communication, but a level of confidence that decisions were thoughtful and informed.
Fast-forward a decade. Now there are a multitude of sources and weather forecasting tools at our fingertips, and rarely do they all make the same predictions.
Behind the scenes, school superintendents start to sort through all that information in the wee hours of the morning while conferring with administrators in neighboring communities, public works staff, transportation professionals and other personnel who are experiencing and preparing for conditions in real time.
Instead of chyrons and brief phone messages or texts, today families are informed by emails, social media and releases sent out by school administrators with lengthy explanations providing a rationale for the decision. They know these disruptions have an impact on learning and that schedule changes are inconvenient. It’s not easy for anyone to plan for unforeseen circumstances.
And no one wants to get it wrong. When they do, you can bet the biggest regrets are held by those who contributed to the discussion and the administrator who ultimately made the call.
Reasonable people don’t need a tome justifying these decisions. They understand they are made out of an abundance of caution to keep kids safe. Classwork can be made up. And what is in the best interest of children isn’t always going to be convenient. That’s a reality of parenting.