'Err on the side of safety for the kids'

Cary Ashby • Jan 5, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Contrary to popular belief, school superintendents don’t just look out the window to decide to cancel school on a snowy day.

Norwalk City Schools officials look at the windchill chart, how long it takes a student to walk to school on average and the projected windchill temperature. Superintendent George Fisk and Kelly Ross, the new director of support services, also drive the rural roads and check the intersections.

“We start that about 4:30 or 5 (a.m.),” Fisk said. “On fog days, we are looking at visibility.”

Local superintendents also share information with each other about the weather conditions in their districts.

“I talk to Edison (Local Schools) a lot because they are the closest district,” Fisk said.

Similar to Norwalk, Edison covers roads inside the village of Milan and county roads.

“We’ll talk to each other to see what’s going on. We just share conditions with each other,” Fisk said.

Tom Roth, Edison superintendent, said his process for deciding whether to close school or have a delayed opening “starts with monitoring the weather forecasts” the day beforehand.

On a cold and snowy day, he and the transportation director drive around the district to check the road conditions starting about 3 or 3:30 a.m. Roth said he goes to different areas to compare the actual air temperature and wind chill with what is being reported online.

Roth estimated he might travel 70 miles on a day when he cancels school. For a day ending up in a two-hour delay, the superintendent could be on the road for 115 to 120 miles.

The Edison superintendent said his goal on making a decision is 5:30 a.m. since the bus drivers will need to start their routes and there are Edison High School “zero hour” classes that start slightly after 6.

“We do think of everyone who is on the road — the students, parents and bus drivers,” Roth added.

Gone are the days when school districts had a certain number of allotted days they could use before making them up. Now, Ohio schools must meet the state minimum for instructional hours.

For kindergarten through sixth grade, the minimum is 910 hours. For seventh through 12th grade, it’s 1,001 hours.

“We just track the hours. We have to meet the state minimum hours,” Fisk said. “That’s just the minimum. … We want our kids in school more than the state minimum.”

For Norwalk to face a significant challenge in fulfilling its instructional hours, the superintendent said there would have to be a “very challenging winter.”

“Our school year has a decent amount of time built (into the calendar).” Fisk added. “At the end of the day we will err on the side of safety for the kids.”

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