How Do Administrators Decide When to Delay/Close Schools?

JEFFERSON CO., Pa. (EYT) – Winter weather can bring can bring some less than ideal conditions to Jefferson County, and making decisions about school delays and cancellations during weather events is far from an easy task for local administrators. spoke to school administrators from around the county about how they make decisions regarding weather-related delays and cancellations.

It seems you’d have to get up awfully early in the morning to catch any of these administrators in their decision-making process. All of the administrators we spoke to said they start watching the weather the night before, and then they get up to start checking the conditions by at least 4:00 a.m., sometimes earlier. And, there are a lot of other variables to be considered in this decision-making process.

“It’s a thankless part of the job. I can tell you, we are always watching the weather. We have apps on our phones. It starts by 11 p.m. the night before,” Superintendent Robin Fillman of Brookville Area School District said. “I wake up by 4 a.m. We evaluate the weather, and I make contact with maintenance staff, talk to them, ask about their drive to the school.”

“I want to know, can they keep up with the snowfall? Is there ice underneath the snow? I also call PennDOT and get a rating of what current road conditions are. Drifting, wind chill, and estimates of later snowfall through the day are all things we look at.”

“We always put safety and security first and foremost, our highest priority,” said Superintendent Luke Lansberry of DuBois Area School District, “I call our Director of Transportation first thing in the morning. He consults with the townships and PennDOT. Sometimes PennDOT just needs more time.”

“I also check with other superintendents in the area. I consult regularly with Dr. Lesniewski, from Punxsutawney,” Lansberry noted, though he also added, “Everybody’s needs are a little different.”

Superintendent Dan Hawkins of Brockway Area School District says making the final call can be nerve-racking.

“I put a tremendous amount of time and worry into the decision,” said Hawkins. “I look at multiple weather sites and check the radar on the computer. I go out an check on the amount of snow and ice. I live in the district, so I know what the roads here are like.”

Most administrators agree that erring on the side of caution is a must.

“There’s no steadfast rule for this,” Superintendent Thomas Lesniewski of Punxsutawney Area School District noted. “Our goal is, if we’re going to err, we’re going to try to err on the side of caution. We have a lot of back roads that townships have to work hard to keep clean. We have some kids in very rural areas; the townships have trouble cleaning some of those roads.”

Whatever decision is made, though, it seems impossible to make everyone happy.

“We’re criticized a lot, I think, because some people look at just one aspect, and we have to look at the holistic picture,” Fillman told us, “In Western Pennsylvania, we’re always going to have some roads that are subpar, but we do our best.”

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