Parents can take greater action in decisions to delay, cancel school

School districts across Indiana have to made choices each winter about whether to go ahead with classes as planned, call a two-hour delay or cancel classes for the day, based on weather conditions.

Snow, ice and freezing temperatures create challenging decisions for school superintendents, who often face no-win situations.

Call a delay or cancel classes and some parents are unhappy. Go ahead with classes and some complain that student safety was put at risk.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts said he faced one such no-win situation Jan. 24. He took some grief for not calling a two-hour delay on a day when invisibly slick roads — also called black ice — caught school administrators by surprise.

Because of the size of the Bartholomew Consolidated district, buses have to leave by 5:30 a.m. in order for classes to start on time. When faced with inclement weather, Roberts begins considering what to do between 4 and 5 a.m.

At 4:45 a.m., he allowed buses leave for their routes as scheduled. By 6, though, school officials realized road conditions were more challenging than first thought. Some students had already been picked up, however, and the BCSC administration decided not to return students home or call buses back.

What had happened was an icy mist started falling at 10 p.m. the night before, but temperatures still were above freezing, and there was no indication of ice sticking to surfaces. Sometime later, though, temperatures dropped suddenly, causing roads to freeze.

Black ice conditions happen several times during the winter, but typically not before heavy traffic periods, said Bryan Burton, city’s director of public works.

What makes a superintendent’s decision more difficult in these cases is the inevitable comparison to what other school districts did.

More than 100 schools throughout Marion County called off classes Jan. 24. Closer to Columbus, Brown County School Corp. canceled classes. Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. initially called a two-hour delay shortly before classes began, but at 9 a.m. FHRC Superintendent Shawn Price canceled classes for the full day.

Roberts said later that if he had known at 4:45 a.m. what he learned at 6, he would have called for a two-hour delay. Second-guessing, though, can’t help in real time when the best choice may not be as obvious as a foot-tall snowdrift.

In cases of worsening weather, parents don’t have to wait for school officials to make the decision about whether kids should be in school on a given day. If parents are concerned about the safety of their children, they have the ability to keep them home themselves — and contact the school to explain.

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