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January 14, 2014

A note from Superintendent Susan Salvaggio: Weathering the weather...

Perhaps no decision that a school superintendent makes gets more scrutiny than closing school - or keeping it open - during the winter months. It's a decision that's made in consultation with other district and local officials, leaders of neighboring districts, and a watchful eye on the forecast. But make no mistake - it's a judgment call that's often made in the wee hours of the morning.

District leaders track the weather closely and discuss potential impacts on school and school related activities as soon as we are aware of impending inclement weather. If inclement weather is anticipated during the day, we assess whether afterschool activities need to be cancelled, or if school needs to close early. The timing of a storm is a very critical factor in the decision making process.

When a storm is predicted to arrive in the evening or early morning, I monitor the local forecast and check in regularly with Tom O'Donnell, our director of transportation and Matthew Bourgeois, our supervising administrator for transportation. Tom is also in contact with other local school directors of transportation and highway and safety officials throughout this process.

During any storm event, Tom ensures that the bus fleet is ready to go. We also communicate frequently with our buildings and grounds department to be sure that the buildings are ready, the lots are plowed and walkways clear. I want to thank both departments for an excellent job in handling the conditions we've faced this winter.

Parents need the information related to school being open or closed as soon as possible. When we do close or delay school, there are several ways the information is shared - the district website, the district Facebook page, School News Notifier text and email alerts, and our notification to local media.

Closing a school due to extreme cold is not typical in our area. A letter from the Monroe County Department of Health is referenced widely across the state, and specifically addresses wind chill factors. In the letter, Public Health Director Byron Kennedy provides guidance for school officials and families.

In the letter, Kennedy notes that wind chills below -25 degrees can be dangerous depending on how children are dressed and how long they have to walk to school or wait for the bus. He suggests using that as a threshold for considering closing schools.

Announcing a school closing the night before school is a unique determination, although not unheard of. I recently made this decision when weather conditions included the combination of existing snow and ice, a continuing storm, and extreme cold. In addition, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had closed the New York State Thruway and declared a State of Emergency, asking people to stay off the roads. Given this request, the conditions, and the forecast, it seemed logical to provide our parents and the greater community with advance notice about the closing of school.

You can be sure that we will continue to monitor the weather throughout the winter season. Whether school is open, closed or delayed, the decision and overriding interest is to always ensure the safety of our children.