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Close or Not Close--That is the Question

Posted by Scott Barron on Feb 25, 2015 8:12:43 AM
Scott Barron

Across many parts of the US, school boards and superintendents are facing a difficult dilemma: Close school because of the threat of hazardous conditions caused by the weather or take a chance that the Weather Channel is wrong. (Did I really say that??) The risks of this decision can be intimidating and the rewards short-lived.

GA Ice 2014Consider, for example, last year when Atlanta, Georgia, experienced severe ice and snow. The highways and roads throughout the area were impassable because they were covered in ice. Children were stuck in buses on the road or forced to sleep at school. Parents couldn't get to the schools because of the hazardous conditions, and many slept in their cars.

The headline read, "Rare snow, ice shock the Deep South," but that didn't speak to the whole damage. The Georgia governor faced repeated questions from the media about why the state wasn't better prepared. School administrators were ridiculed for not closing schools earlier to get their students home safely. See what I mean? The implications of the school closing decision are tough.

The Joy of a Snow Day?

For the administrator who has school-aged children, this is an especially difficult call. Once the weatherman even hints of possible snow, the kids begin pressing the issue. "Are we going to have a snow day? Please?! Pretty Please?!?!!" The pressure is relentless, with whipped cream and puppy dog eyes piled on top of their unceasing pleas.

If the decision is made to close and the roads end up being ok, then the superintendent faces the challenge from parents and the local press about being a weak leader. "Back in the day when I was young, we walked through ten feet of snow to get to school. They never let us stay home, and now I have to figure out what to do with my kids who have been disenfranchised from this life lesson. Heads will roll!"

Like many decisions made by the administration and board, this is an emotional situation with heavy consequences.

The Joy of the Weather Man

The real joy here is with the weather man, who I'm confident owns stock in certain food producing companies. With just a few words about the possibility of inclement conditions, the mad rush to the grocery store begins. Bread, milk and eggs must be had as the family hunkers down for the wintery threat. What if the prediction is wrong? No worries, it was just a percentage of possibility that was their best guess at the time. Like sports broadcasters and political pundits, there's always next time.

That's the joy of the weather man: Limited accountability for what is said. Blame it on the computer model. Not so for the school administrator and especially the fourth grade teacher. Those kids have long memories and will boldly point out when an error is made.

To close or not close--that is the question that vexes the school leader during each cycle of precipitation. Another reason to long for spring break.

Topics: Leadership

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