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Those Little Flakes Add up to Big Decisions

Westport News

Westport News

Paige Farlow and Lyah Muktavaram

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Now that the threat of winter snow days is over, it’s time to take stock.

Even though most people will agree that having a snow day can be well, awesome, the decision behind this process is complicated and each decision to open or close school affects everyone involved with the schools.

From multiple emails and texts, to early morning conversations and weather forecasts, a cancellation or delay comes from a long process.

Throughout this past winter, the number of snow days and delays was on almost everyone’s mind. So even though many believe that the number of snow days has been a problem, the important decision has been worked out to create the best and safest learning environment.

Dr. Colleen Palmer, the Superintendent of the Westport Schools, act as the final say. “I am the final say, and I make the decision on whether we have school or don’t have school. All of the responsibility rests on my shoulders,” she said.

With this responsibility, Dr. Palmer works with multiple meteorologists who are on watch for storms all season long. During the winter, she will receive a daily email keeping the town up to date on any storms. When storms are predicted, she will be kept alert with more frequent emails containing charts, graphs, and predictions. “It is much more valuable than watching the radar scan because the predictions will be specific for Westport,” she said.

Dr. Palmer will typically take part in a conference call with meteorologists and other area superintendents to understand the situation more clearly. “The meteorologist will begin to give his or her update of how the weather is predicted,” she said.

These conversations help Dr. Palmer understand some of the most critical parts of this decision. “I have got to make sure I have good weather for all three runs to the schools,” she said, “then at the end of the day, I have to make sure I have enough time to get the busses off the roads again.”

When thinking about the school day, she must make sure that busses are able to get to school safely and back home safely as well. “Unless I have the two windows of transportation, we can’t have school,” she said. Even in different situations, Dr. Palmer keeps her contact with the town and the weather updates a priority. Finding the window of time can be the decision that saves one of the 180 days of school required.

However, making this decision can be just an dangerous when it comes to later in the day. “The problems for me is that once I start the process, and call schools on, it can be very, very difficult and often more dangerous than a delay or cancellation,” Dr. Palmer said. This risk can be one of the most difficult situations to understand, as the town must make a decision four hours in the future.

“We never compromise safety,” she says, “no matter what time the students get to school.”

So while Dr. Palmer has to go along with her decision, thousands of Westport school students are also impacted by this decision.

6th grader Joyce Seo feels that the district has been fairly reasonable with the amount of snow days given out, as she believes that the situation must be acceptable for all students when having school.

Alexandra Russell-Laga, another 6th grader agrees. “I think that it is appropriate to cancel school when not everyone can get to school because they might fall behind when learning with classmates,” she said.

Still, throughout this entire process, from all of the thoughts and conferences that go into the decision, safety is still the most important aspect. Dr. Palmer’s decision does affect the entire town, but her decision is one that is made to protect the students. “I am going to air on the side of safety, so if we don’t have that two hour block in the morning, I am going to cancel school,” she said.

This year there were so many snow days, the school calendar had to be changed. There was a fear of having to come back to school over April break, but the district instead forgave two school days and added two staff development days after graduation and moving up ceremonies.

 

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Those Little Flakes Add up to Big Decisions