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Making the Tough Calls about Snow Days…

Looking out into the Monet Garden at Wing during the last week of January

by Dr. Richard Canfield, Superintendent

I am often asked about weather related decisions that I must make for the Sandwich Public Schools. Folks wonder about the process involved in responding to extreme weather situations.

I monitor storm updates through our Emergency Management system for the town and schools.  Brian Gallant, the town’s Emergency Management Director,  is generous in sharing information he receives with a number of town departments, including us. The Sandwich Public Schools also retains the services of a meteorologist who monitors area weather and contacts me the evening before any impending weather event.  He also helps with issues involving field trip destinations, or lightening storms that might come into the area for outdoor events such as field days, or graduation.

When it comes to a snow storm, the following takes place:

  • The meteorologist will typically call me between 4:00 and 4:30 in the morning.
  • I speak with our Director of Facilities on the status of our school parking lots and sidewalks.
  • In turn, our Director of Facilities communicates with the department of public works to check on road conditions, and to request sanding if needed.
  • Concurrently, all of the Cape superintendents communicate via text messages and/or emails to compare notes.  We each know that we need to make our own decision though, as conditions vary from town to town on the Cape.
  • The variance is not just on weather conditions, but on each community’s capacity to plow and sand.  This is one reason why the recent blizzard was so challenging as the volume and weight of the snow required heavy equipment that is in short supply in many communities.

Additionally, Sandwich High School serves as the regional shelter for the upper Cape.  If the shelter is open, the school is closed.  If one school is closed it is a challenge to open the others because the district pays for 180 days of school transportation and each school must be in session for 180 days.  So, if only one school were to close for even one day, the district would be charged for the added day.

I do my best to make a decision prior to 6:00am as the bus company needs to get drivers in to prepare the buses to depart the bus yard.  I use the district’s Alert Now system to send out voice and email notifications.  At the same time, the district notifies the radio and television stations, including Sandwich Community Television, and we post on our district website.  The high school also uses its twitter account to notify students and staff.

I use the same resources for delayed openings, early dismissals, and the cancelation of afterschool, evening or weekend activities.  The athletic department use twitter to notify athletes and parents of any changes to the athletic schedule.

As superintendent I really want our students to be in school, and I know parents do as well.  I do know the weather related decisions I make involve the safety of over 3,000 children and young adults.  On bad weather days I encourage parents of high school student drivers to have them take the school bus.  If an accident does occur, chances of injury are significantly lower for bus riders because of the way the buses are designed.

I assure parents that safety is number one on my mind, and I certainly wish that weather forecasting could be a perfect science, but it is not.  In Sandwich conditions can vary tremendously from Forestdale to East Sandwich.  If a parent feels that the conditions in their neighborhood are too dangerous for travel, they may keep their child at home until conditions improve.  I just ask that they call in to inform the school of their decision.  It is said that, “Safety is no accident.”  So it is a matter of all of us working together to keep our students safe.