FHSD Superintendent Pam Sloan talks Snow Day Cancellation Policy

By Jake Chiarelli

FHSD has a school cancellation procedure that has recently come under scrutiny by the FHN community. When inclement Dr  Pam Sloanweather affects the road conditions within district boundaries, the District must make a judgement call on whether or not a weather event creates a significant risk to student and staff safety.

“We’re making a decision that is based on the best interest of the students and staff, and there are many factors, like wind chill and snow on the ground, which determine what our decision is,” FHSD Superintendent Pam Sloan said.

When determining whether or not the District needs to cancel school, there are several factors and considerations they must make. The District’s boundaries span 150 square miles and include almost 20,000 students, so the decision to cancel school is one that is not taken lightly.

FHSD must evaluate the conditions of all areas within the district boundaries. The western and southwestern areas of the district and the area near Daniel Boone Elementary can be more problematic because there are more rural roads that students must travel on that may not be cleared by the time students are heading to school.

“We’re making a decision that’s in the best interest of the students,” Dr. Sloan said. “‘Can we get students to school safely? Can maintenance get the sidewalks and facilities prepared in time?’ These are the questions we have to answer.”

Some of the factors that the district must evaluate when making the decision to close schools include:

  • If all areas of the district are affected by a weather event, or if the event is isolated to portions of the district
  • What other school districts decide and report
  • Whether or not maintenance and janitorial staff can adequately prepare the parking lots, driveways and sidewalks of FHSD facilities
  • How much precipitation has fallen, or what other weather events are occurring that could potentially affect the community
  • Road conditions within district boundaries

According to Dr. Sloan, a District team, often including the Superintendent, the Director of Facilities, and the Director of Transportation evaluate road conditions from around 3:30-4:30 a.m. If the District has advanced notice of inclement weather. Difficulty arises when weather strikes between 5 and 6 a.m. The District tries to make a decision by 5:00, or 5:30 a.m. at the very latest. Having a decision earlier gives FHSD enough time to get the message out to bus drivers, students and staff.

“This is an informed decision that isn’t made arbitrarily,” Assistant Principal Chris Birch said. “The superintendent confers with other area superintendents and makes the decision that is deemed best for the students.”

Once Dr. Sloan has made her decision, the Director of Communications updates the FHSD website and social media and initiates the rapid notification system. The news and weather play an important role in that decision, but other factors play less of an important role.

“We take a lot of information into account in a short amount of time,” Director of Purchased Services and Enrollment Planning Mike Sloan said. “We can’t necessarily rely on social media, so we have the news, and people on the ground to help make that call.”

The district has 10 contingent snow days allotted for the school year. The first possible snow make-up day is May 22, then there are the first three days of spring break that can be used as possible make-up days, and once those are scheduled, the last day of the school year is pushed back as needed. The district almost never uses late start snow schedules, as they could be problematic for following bus schedules, and there isn’t always a guarantee that starting one hour late will mean improved road conditions.

“I think people need to understand that we’re making a call at 5:00 a.m. when schools starts at 7:20, that weather changes, and things can happen,” Dr. Sloan said. “There is a small window we have to make a decision before buses have to get on their way, and conditions don’t always stay the same from the time we make a call to later in the morning.”