The decision to call off school, or even delay it for a few hours, is not an easy one to make for any School Superintendent.
“It is the most feared decision Superintendents have to make,” McCreary County Schools Acting Superintendent Mike Cash said Tuesday.
If severe weather hits, and school is not called off, it puts students at risk. Conversely, if the call to cancel school is made and no bad weather hits, it can disrupt education and prolong the length of the school year needlessly.
Cash said he takes the responsibility very seriously and has worked with District personnel to develop a new policy last September, using input from District transportation officials, staff members and other Superintendents from around the region, to lay out guidelines on how and why school should be canceled.
The policy is more “aggressive” than in years past with the intention to foster a more consistent learning environment for the students. The plan was sent to all staff members and parents at the start of the school year.
While the goal of keeping kids in school as much as possible to retain the integrity of instructional days, Cash says the top priority is to ensure the safety of students and staff.
The decision making process begins the day before anticipated weather, with Cash monitoring the weather forecast for the coming day. If there is a possibility of weather affecting school operations the following day with hazardous conditions the decision can be made that evening and One Call Now and media are notified of the cancellation.
If conditions are questionable, starting around 4:00 a.m. weather spotters throughout the county are in contact with District Transportation officials to notify them of any potential dangers on the roads.
At 5:00 a.m. Cash takes part in a conference call with the National Weather Service out of Jackson County. Other Superintendents throughout the area also are part of the call, and they learn of possible weather conditions and changes expected that day.
Calls are also made to the state and local highway departments to check road conditions throughout the county.
Again, if conditions are expected to be hazardous, school would be cancelled and parents notified.
The policy also includes guidelines on wind chill using the NWS’ warnings and advisories.
If the NWS issues a wind chill advisory, meaning winds of 10 miles per hour or more and wind chills between -10 and -24, school will likely be open as usual, baring problems with the bus fleet or school buildings.
A wind chill warning, meaning wind chill temperatures below -25, will prompt the close of school for that day.
Cash said there is a lot of behind the scenes activity in the District on wintery days to help alleviate some of the difficulties cold weather brings. School busses typically are started an hour before a route begins to allow the heat to circulate, and maintenance staff turn up the thermostats in the schools early as well.
“Our top priorities are: getting the kids to school safely, giving them an education, and getting them home safely,” Cash said.
“People have to trust we want to do the right thing for the students.”
Cash stated he understands parent’s concerns on cold days, and reminds them they can make the call to keep their child out of school, and the District’s policy has measures in place for such situations.
“If you determine that the weather conditions are too dangerous for your child to be out, we respect your decision,” the policy states. “You are free to contact your child’s school to request an excused absence for the day.”
It also states problems with cars not starting or other weather-related issues will be considered for an excused absence, but parents will need to contact the attendance office at the schools to report the absence.
Parents are encouraged to sign up for the One Call Now notification system both for phone and email notifications.
Cash stated there have been issues this week with One Calls not being delivered this week (Tuesday morning and later that same afternoon). The District is working with Highland Telephone and One Call Now to resolve those issues.
He advises parents also check with Lexington or Knoxville television stations as local school closings are reported to them as well.
Cash also noted the District will soon be able to use the Infinite Campus portal to notify parents.