How is a weather-related school cancellation decided?

Recently, I was asked by a student reporter what conditions are taken into consideration for the cancellation of school. As I shared the information with him, I thought I would also post this information here as well. While we have unseasonably warm/dry weather projected through our holiday break, now is a good time to prepare for inclement weather conditions.

There are several factors that are collectively taken into consideration specifically as it relates to winter weather and the decision to cancel school or not:

  • the amount of snow accumulation
  • forecast for more snow, and any advisories or warnings
  • ice
  • wind: impacting visibility, blowing and drifting of snow, and windchill
  • actual air temperature and highs/lows for the day
  • windchill readings, if sustained windchills fall below -20 school will be cancelled
  • the conditions of roads and resulting impact of city snow removal, road crews from the townships, and our own contracted work
  • the conditions of sidewalks to the same above
  • time of day, ie. evening events or activities

The first snowfall of any year reminds all of us the need to take extra precaution, drive slower-below any posted speed limits, and allow extra stopping distance at intersections. We do live in a winter climate and we have to be prepared to drive in these conditions when it is advised safe to do so. I am also mindful that many of our students walk to school. In either case, we have to dress appropriately in winter coats, hats, gloves, boots and even snow pants where applicable.

The other unknown piece about living on the Lakeshore is that the weather conditions can change at any time. It can be safe during one time period in the morning and weather patterns can quickly change in the afternoon.

I actually drive the roads in the morning typically beginning about 5:00 a.m. along with additional individuals from the district. We check the above elements. I coordinate with the local police, read advisories from the Michigan State Police, use three different web sources for wind chill and temperature, in addition to consulting with my colleagues across Ottawa/Allegan County including other superintendents. This doesn't happen every morning but on days when the weather is called into question.

The decision to close school is made by 6:15 a.m. Once this decision is made, several calls are made. The first thing that is updated is my twitter account @bdavishps. Second our hotline number at 494-2095. Our web page notice and text alerts are the next things to be updated. You can sign up for our text alerts on the school website Quick Links section. We then contact the media. It can sometimes take 10-15 minutes before you will see the scroll on the TV stations like WOOD TV  8 or WZZM 13. You can sign up for text alerts from many media outlets if you desire. The first public announcement is through my twitter account. You can follow me: @bdavisHPS.

By 1:00 p.m. each day, we also consider the status of our evening events, practices, and other activities. It is possible that events during the day may be canceled and evening events will proceed. It is also possible that events during the day will happen and evening events or activities will be canceled.

As the weather can change throughout the day, we do not typically cancel early and send students home unless we would be advised to do so by the local authorities. There are a number of reasons why this is. This primarily has to do with the overall safety and supervision of students at home and parents being able to accommodate work schedules. Traffic patterns, road patrol, crossing guards etc. are coordinated with school start and dismissal times from a larger community perspective. The overall pedestrian and traffic flow related to work and school start/end times are timed and work as a larger overall transportation system. One change can have a great impact on another.

While we may consider a two-hour delay, this is typically very hard for families as well. A two-hour delay would most likely be used in the event of fog and not snow or ice.

When temperatures fall below 10 degrees air and -10 degrees windchill, students do not go out for recess or PE activities. If the temperature is forecast to stay below these marks for the entire day and not rise, then a decision to close school for the day is considered. If there are sustaining windchills of -20 or below, school will be cancelled.

I also consider that if we don't have school, there are students who have not eaten since lunch the day prior or week prior. Over 70% of our students rely on the district for some form of breakfast, lunch, and even supper. While you may not be aware, we send home backpacks with food for students over the weekend to ensure that they have something to eat with the support of our church partners through a project called Hand to Hand. We also partner with Kids Food Basket to provide sack suppers to eligible students Monday-Thursday. I also consider the number of young children who are home alone who do not have supervision as their parent or both parents has to work when school is cancelled. Many families also struggle with energy efficiency and the heating of homes or apartments. These factors do not preclude a school cancellation due to weather and keeping our students safe. However, I am mindful of the realities of some of our families and I hope you are as well.

Schools have also become much more dependent upon each other. We share many different services. So, if all of our neighboring schools are closed, in addition to the Intermediate School District and Tech Center, then there is a strong possibility that we will close as well. If HPS closes, HC generally has to close. If WO closes, HC generally has to close. Holland Christian relies on both districts for transportation services.

It is possible that if WO and ZPS are closed, that HPS may still have school. Please keep in mind that HPS is roughly a 17 square mile, largely city school district. WO and ZPS are largely rural school districts with close to or over 100 square miles of rural roads. Our city does a very nice job keeping up with snow accumulation and road conditions. The roads in the city can be considerably better than outlying rural areas. Just because WO and ZPS cancels, does not automatically mean that HPS will as well.

Approximately 80% of our student body walks, drives, bikes, use public transportation, or rides with others to school. The circumstances and variables considered for our safe arrival to school take this into consideration. School buses can often make it safely to school when sidewalks or side roads are not traversable by other means.

Certainly, if school is in session and parents decide not to have their children attend due to extreme weather, then we support that decision.

The safety and the protection of our students in all circumstances is the highest priority. There are multiple factors that have to be considered and I do not take this decision lightly.

During the winter season: please drive safely, bundle up, use only sidewalks when walking to school, and stay tuned to recent weather updates and school closing information.