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Snow is forecast... will schools close?

FALLS VILLAGE —Deciding to delay or close school can be a difficult decision for superintendents to make, especially when the weather hasn’t decided what it is going to do.

For the day-to-day commuter, the weatherman can be a great source for upcoming weather. But for school officials  who are responsible for many children over a large geographic area, the forecaster is only one of many sources used to make the decision.

Thus far, this winter season, the Region One School District has only had two snow closings.

Unlike some school districts, Region One does not have an allotted number of snow days. Instead, the canceled school days are made up at the end of the school year. Days are rarely taken away from spring break.

The original date for the last day of classes was June 10, but is now Monday, June 14.

The decision to close or delay school starts before the sun comes up or students stir in their beds.

“The biggest factor is communication,” said Lucille Paige, who is assistant to Patricia Chamberlain, superintendent of the Region One School District. According to Paige, Chamberlain makes several phone calls early in the morning before deciding to close schools.

On the morning of the day in question, beginning around 4 a.m., Chamberlain is on the phone with the people who are on ground zero — the road crews.

She makes a call to the town garages to talk to the drivers who actually plow the roads, to see the progress they’ve made and find out how safe they think the roads are.

Then she calls the state police to see how many accidents have been reported.

A call to neighboring schools’ superintendents to find out conditions in their area and what they are going to do is standard practice.

After digesting all this information and checking with the weatherman to see how much more precipitation is expected to fall, the superintendent decides whether to delay the opening, close school or call for early dismissal.

A decision needs to be made by 5:10 a.m. If conditions are not safe to transport children to school then the process of calling television and radio stations to report closings or delays starts immediately.

It is difficult to gauge the weather, though. School officials are stuck on a literal and figurative slippery slope when all the signs point to a blizzard and the outcome is a mere 1 or 2 inches, as happened with the snow day called for Feb. 10.

Paige, who has been the assistant to the superintendent for the past 19 years, says you never know what Mother Nature is going to do.

She said she’s seen the schools close — and the storm die out, leaving parents upset because they don’t have day care and have to miss a day of work even though the roads are fine.

Conversely, if schools stay open and parents see buses slipping through the slush, they become concerned about the safety of their child.

“It is one of the most difficult decisions to make, it is never easy,” Paige said.

Paige stressed that the superintendent has to do what is best for the students’ safety at all times.

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