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Calling a Snowday: Unique Considerations for Independent Schools

Posted by Chris Starr on Jan 23, 2024 3:22:38 PM

Perhaps it’s 8:30 p.m., and your preferred method of emergency notification buzzes to inform you that your child’s school will be closed tomorrow due to inclement weather. Alternatively, the notification alerts you to a late start or early departure the following day. 

Snow day decisions bring glee and unexpected freedom to even the most dedicated students. Still, on the part of many parents, they bring anxiety over last-minute schedule changes, not to mention second-guessing whether the school has made the right call and whether other schools in the area are making the same decision.

While the decision to interrupt in-person school due to inclement weather is challenging for all school administrators, it is especially complicated at an independent school due to various unique considerations. Four distinct characteristics of independent schools make them particularly cautious regarding impending weather.

OTK (54)


Physical Plant, Geography, and Complexity of Campus

Most public school districts divide elementary, middle, and high school students into separate campus areas. Thus, their respective physical plants are smaller, more isolated, contain fewer building structures, and have less complex access and egress modes.

Independent schools, however, may span dozens of acres and encompass numerous school buildings, gymnasiums, auditoriums, sports facilities, parking areas, and walkways.

Ensuring safety after or during a snow event requires more time, effort, equipment, and supplies. A facilities team or contractor must clear every roadway, stairway, walkway, fire escape, entrance, and exit to secure the campus for staff, faculty, and students. The amount of time needed to clear the school grounds increases exponentially based on size and complexity.  

Catchment Area and Routes to Campus

Public schools draw students from nearby neighborhoods. School administrators can safely assume that most of the students attending their school will be experiencing the same conditions during any given weather event. 

Independent schools may draw students from a wide geographic area. Oak Knoll, for example, has a catchment area spanning five counties and 60 towns. Staff, faculty, and student families may live hours away from each other and in areas affected very differently by a given weather event. In addition, this wider geographic catchment area means an even more comprehensive range of road types, routes, and route conditions to consider.

While some families may see a snow day as unnecessary because the weather hasn’t severely impacted their neighborhood, that isn’t to say that other student families were free from risk and left without severe impact. School administrators made the snow day decision based on a broader assessment of the weather’s impending effect.

Age Range of Students

Ever wonder why one local school called a delay and another school might have the day off? The type of school and the age range of children on campus will factor into how a school will respond during the threat of inclement weather. For example, a school like Oak Knoll which has children from pre-K to grade 12, will need to consider the broad range of concerns for very young students and those of new student drivers. Other schools may only have elementary and middle school students or only high school students, meaning administrators must factor in the safety of different age groups, and facility crews must maintain safe spaces for disparate levels of experience and maturity.

Means of Transportation

An independent school will likely have a more complex range of transportation modes to factor into weather decisions. For example, Oak Knoll has students traveling to school by public bus, train, carpool, parent drivers, self-driving older students, and even public school system buses.

If the public school system closes in an area where Oak Knoll students utilize their buses to reach our school, they will be without transportation for that day. Students using general public transport will be affected by potential delays and cancellations. Students with new driver’s licenses and less experience on the road may not have the time behind the wheel to judge safe conditions.

In summary, many more complexities are at play when inclement weather is in the forecast. Each school will always prioritize the safety of its community members when considering a snow day, delay, or early departure. The school relies on the best available meteorological information and weather monitoring services, along with consultations with public officials and police in their community and conversations with school administrators at other nearby independent and public schools, to make an overall assessment of the impending effect of inclement weather.

Topics: private school, snow, safety, Community

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