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Ticknor: Behind the science of calling a snow day

Community voice

Published: Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 12:04 p.m. CDT
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Mary Ticknor

“Snow day.”

It’s amazing how two words can mean such different things to different people.

For students, it’s a bonus ... the equivalent of finding $20 in the pocket of your jeans. A snow day equates to a day to sleep in, watch a movie or perhaps even get in some extra studying for an upcoming exam.

However, those two words don’t carry the same level of joy for school administrators. Determining whether or not to close school for weather-related issues is one of the most difficult decisions I’ll have to make during the course of a school year. Regardless of the decision, it almost certainly will make someone unhappy.

Cancelling school has a wide range of consequences. Students who are reliant on school for their daily meals or for support services that we provide beyond education won’t receive them. All extra-curricular activities are cancelled. And, of course, any days missed must be made up, which may cause conflicts for some families if the date of graduation or the last day of school is changed.

Most importantly, students miss out on an opportunity to learn. “Emergency days” may be rescheduled, but what truly is lost is the momentum that students and teachers have built in their classrooms.

Ultimately, what guides this decision is whether students, parents and staff can get to our campus safely.

To be as well informed as possible, I spend hours gathering important information from the village of Lemont, Lemont Police Department, District 113A, our bus company and our buildings and grounds team. I also consult with superintendents from neighboring communities and schools within our athletic conference.

Each community’s situation is unique. Some towns or schools lack the manpower to clear streets and lots. Districts with grade school students must consider concerns over younger students being out in cold temperatures waiting for buses or walking to school. All districts must be confident that there will be no issues related to bus transportation.

If the weather is so severe that the decision can be made the night before, I try to make the call as early as possible out of consideration for our students, parents and staff. However, in cases where the weather conditions worsen overnight, this process becomes an all-night affair where conditions are assessed every 30 minutes, beginning as early as 3 a.m. Those nights aren’t fun.

As meteorologists begin detailing impending inclement weather, work is just beginning to determine at what point I get to say the three words that will make me the most happy.

“School is open!”

Mary Ticknor is the superintendent of Lemont High School District 210

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