What administrators really think about snow days

Sean Joseph

Students and teachers may be the only ones who enjoy snow days, because they can create headaches for parents – and in turn, administrators.

Ultimately, the school district’s superintendent has the final call, in most cases.

At Kent State, it rests with President Carol Cartwright but involves a number of people. The chief of police watches the highways and major roads closest to campus, and the grounds crew looks at the sidewalks and roads on campus, said David Creamer, vice president of administration.

Both parties consult with Creamer and make their recommendation for canceling classes for all or part of the day. Cartwright rarely goes against Creamer’s advice on this matter.

Severe weather during finals week is one of the only reasons Creamer said he might override the advice of those reporting to him. The university would then take added steps to ensure safety.

Classes or no classes, not everyone is happy.

“We receive a mix of complaints either way,” Creamer said. “Most of the time people don’t mind if we cancel classes, but students do pay a lot of money to attend them and some get upset when they are canceled, or drive all the way here before they find out.”

It’s a mixed bag at schools with younger students too, said Tim Calfee, superintendent for Ravenna City Schools. He receives complaints from about the same number of unhappy parents when school is canceled than when it is held on a questionable day.

“Canceling school is always a last resort,” said Marc Crail, superintendent for Kent City Schools. “Essentially, we make a decision that we believe is best and safest for most of the kids – but we always, always, always, let the parents override our decision if they feel it is too dangerous for their kids to go to school.”

Calfee agreed, and said the problem with canceling school is it often creates a dangerous situation at home if both parents have to work and child care arrangements can’t be made at the last minute. Weather-related absences in Kent and Ravenna are always excused.

Around 4:30 a.m. during or after severe winter weather, the school districts send people from their transportation department to test the conditions. Crail said the decision to cancel school is made around 6:30 a.m.

At the university, the decision to cancel classes before noon must be made by 5:45 a.m., classes between noon and 4:15 p.m. are canceled by 10 a.m., and evening classes starting after 4:15 are canceled by 3 p.m.

Ohio school districts are allotted five calamity days, when they can cancel school for dangerous situations like snow or ice but also fog or electricity failure, Crail said. After those days are up, the district must schedule make-up days unless the Ohio legislature excuses them.

Neither Crail, who has been a superintendent in Kent for 13 years, nor Calfee, who has been in charge of Ravenna schools for four years, have ever had to schedule make-up days.

“I’d hate going over five days,” said Calfee, who added that any extra days would be made up during spring break, at the end of the year or even during a weekend. “All the students want snow days, but nobody wants to make them up.”

Students are always lobbying for snow days, Calfee said. If weather reports say a snow storm is coming, they get excited and superstitious.

“Weather sells on TV,” Calfee said. “They hype every storm up to be the end of the world.”

Local school districts are most concerned about weather conditions around 3 or 4 a.m., Crail said. Five inches of snow could fall around 10 p.m. and be cleared by morning, but a quarter-inch of ice around 4 a.m. could get school canceled.

Ice is the most successful element that gets schools to close, Calfee said. It is also pretty close to a rule-of-thumb that school will be canceled if the wind chill is 20 below zero.

“We watch the sidewalks as close as the roads, but the trouble with that is, if there’s a big snow, people who are going to clean their sidewalks do it on the first day,” Calfee said. “If someone isn’t a good citizen, the snow may be there for days, and we can’t cancel school because people didn’t shovel.”

Crail’s and Calfee’s snow-day policies are similar. One other factor that has an impact on Kent City Schools closing is what neighboring districts are doing, Crail said.

This is because of different programs offered by other districts. Some students spend half their day in Kent, and the other half in Stow, Ravenna or Hudson.

Contact public affairs reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected].