When an early winter storm hit the Hudson Valley in mid-November, Saugerties closed its schools. Some parents were puzzled by the resulting three-day weekend. School district officials explain that the process in determining how best to respond to inclement weather is more complex than people might think.
In a letter sent home with Saugerties students following the decision to close schools on Friday, November 16, interim superintendent Lawrence Mautone detailed the means by which school officials decide whether the weather warrants closure, or whether the kids should come in an hour or two late, or go home early. Sometimes classes proceed as usual, but after-school programs, athletics and other recreational activities on the school grounds are called off.
“Winters in the Hudson Valley can bring changes in the weather that leave winter sports enthusiasts smiling and parents of young new drivers feeling uneasy and nervous,” wrote Mautone. Dealing with the uncertainties of weather and road conditions, and making the call for delays and cancellations is one of the most challenging tasks of a superintendent. “A lot goes into making calls like these,” Mautone wrote. The decision on how best to handle how the weather impacts the district is always based on numerous kinds of information.
In a district like Saugerties, that information is gathered across a considerable amount of real estate, not all of it as flat and compact as the village, where many students can walk to Cahill Elementary or to the Jr./Sr. High School campus. Student safety is very important. A kid living in a hillier, less traveled part of the district faces different challenges than a student living a literal stone’s throw from Grant D. Morse Elementary. “There are several different factors that are considered when making the decision to close, delay opening, or release early,” said Mautone. “Members of our district team hit the roads early, sometimes by 3 a.m., to assess conditions. Their assessment, along with conversations with the local highway departments and neighboring school districts, is vital to the decision-making process.”
Beginning the process early is crucial, Mautone said. Word needs to get out long before anyone is standing around in a blizzard waiting for a school bus that may not come.
“We make every effort to get notifications of school delays or closures posted to our website and social-media platforms between 5 a.m. and 5:15 a.m.,” the interim superintendent said. A further level of notification follows. “The school messenger robocall will be sent out starting at 5:45 a.m. Parents are encouraged to use these forms of notification for information regarding school closings and delays.”
Mautone said the best options for parents or students who don’t want to wait for the robocall are to check in on the official social-media platforms used by the district (@saugertiescsd on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook). The district’s official website (www.saugerties.k12.ny.us) and local TV and radio stations are also recommended as ways to get information about school closures.
The district also has the option of opening each school day an hour or two later than usual, resulting in a shorter school day with shorter class times. “Two-hour delayed openings mean all schedules will be delayed by two hours,” Mautone noted. “Bus pickups will be approximately two hours later than the normally scheduled time. Please continue to monitor announcements of delays as they could turn into school closings, depending on the weather.”
A delayed opening has the added layer of not impacting the district’s allotment of six snow days factored into its annual calendar. Going over or under six snow days has ramifications in the spring, shortening or adding to breaks for which many families have already planned travel. School officials said that a delayed opening is only used when the extra time is needed to ensure the safe travel of all students.
Letting the kids out early is also a decision that isn’t made lightly. It will have an impact on the schedules of parents and guardians. If an early dismissal is in the conversation, Mautone said, the decision is made as early as possible, with the same notification system, including the robocall, used.
“Dismissing school early is even trickier,” Mautone said. “I know that it is an inconvenience for many parents and guardians to arrange to meet their children when we have an early dismissal, so this decision is never made lightly. Typically, the decision is made by mid-morning for an early-afternoon dismissal. When an early dismissal is being considered, after-school activities are typically cancelled. Notifications of early dismissals will be posted and announced through the same forms of media as our delays and closings. We know that delays and closings can be inconvenient for families. However, the safety of our students and their families is our top priority.”