Every winter, Ohio turns gray as the temperatures drop, snow begins to fly and students begin dreaming of getting the notice that school is closed. While students look forward to the weather changing, superintendents dread this difficult aspect of their position. The decision to call off school is one that is not made easily or without trepidation. It is easily the most controversial decision we make. Here's a peek inside a typical winter morning.
The alarm clock rings about 4:15 a.m. I get dressed and head to my vehicle to go for a drive, with two other district employees following a similar routine. We begin our trek driving different routes and areas of our district, covering the majority of district roads in just 30 minutes. Our purpose is to determine if it is safe to have buses and student drivers on the road. We also consider whether the conditions are safe for students who walk to school. Fortunately, we have outstanding service from the Gahanna and Jefferson Township road crews, who work through the night to clear and salt roads for morning commutes.
The three of us usually meet at the administration office about 5 a.m. to watch central Ohio up-to-the-minute weather reports. We analyze the forecast and what we have just experienced. I need to make a decision by 5:30 a.m. as bus drivers need to depart the bus compound to begin their student transportation routes. This certainly is not an exact science because we are basing decisions on forecasts, which, as we all know, tend to change rapidly.
While all of this is going on, I also am in contact with several neighboring superintendents who are making the same decisions. We are sharing our thoughts and using each other as sounding boards. In the end, however, we each need to make the best decisions based on the safety of our own students and district.
It is a very small window of time to make a decision that affects parents, students, teachers and the education process. Once the decision is made, we must begin our individual notification responsibilities. I contact all of the media (radio, TV and newspapers), Eastland-Fairfield and St. Matthew School. Meanwhile, my colleagues are contacting principals, maintenance, custodians, food-service workers and secretaries while preparing an email and sometimes a phone blast. I also use Twitter to alert those who follow me, which is an immediate notification. Within about a 15-minute time frame, we inform more than 50,000 people through these multiple methods.
Recently, we experienced extreme cold, which is another factor to be considered. The basic threshold is minus-10 degrees either in terms of wind chill or actual temperature. At minus-10, children who are exposed could get frostbite in a few minutes. We have a high number of walkers, students waiting at bus stops and high school students who move to and from the main campus and Clark Hall. For cold to be a factor, subzero temperatures must persist for an extended period of time during the day.
I realize this is a brief overview of the factors that are considered, but the overarching rule of thumb is student safety. We will always make decisions based on our students. We value our instructional days, and if there is any possible way to open school, we will.
I would love to say that decisions to stay open or to close come with no criticism, but that would not be true. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and hindsight is always 20/20.
To submit a question to Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci, send an email to email@example.com, with "Straight Talk question" as the subject line.