By SHERIDAN CYR
With last week’s heavy snow, Southington Public Schools announced back-to-back snow days, one on Thursday and another on Friday, sending a ripple through teachers’ classroom plans, events, after school activities, and a trickle effect that continues to influence the schools through the end of the school year.
The two cancelations last week will already delay graduation and push the scheduled last day of school from Tuesday, June 12 to Thursday, June 14.
According to Superintendent of Schools Timothy Connellan, the decision to call of school has little to do with the last day of school and is more complex than just looking out the window in the morning to measure the snow.
The Southington school district is partnered with a meteorologist, who spares the drama seen on television forecast, and reports to Connellan directly, with personalized and accurate weather forecasts in Southington.
“We typically know several days in advanced if we need to watch out for an incoming storm, and then we just wait and see,” said the superintendent. “Of course as it gets closer, we have a better idea of what to expect.”
Connellan said the most important factors are the type of storm, and the timing. If it’s possible to simply call a delay or an early release, the district will jump at that opportunity to spare a snow day, but only if they are fully confident that safety is not in jeopardy.
He needs to consider transportation issues, facility safety issues, snow removal, and sidewalk safety for students who walk to school.
According to state statute, all Connecticut school districts must meet 180 days of school. When school is canceled for a snow day, that school day gets tacked onto the end of the school year.
“We have to stay within the fiscal year, so the last possible school day would be the last business day of June. This year’s date is June 29,” said Connellan. In the worst case scenario, if snow days exceed what is available in June, administration is forced to look at taking days from the April vacation and other holidays such as Presidents Day.
Sometimes, the decision is “pretty clear cut.” Connellan tries to make the right decision as early as possible, while ultimately hoping to not lose a school day. As soon as the word is spoken, notifications begin going out. Alerts are sent to parents, school staff and to the media. In addition, a message is sent to community partners such as non-public schools, local vendors, day care centers, the YMCA, and others.
It’s not just schools in town who have snow on their minds. “We have great relations with the Town Manager, the Town Engineer, the Highway Department and other groups when it comes to winter storms,” he said. “We send those departments the messages we get from our meteorologist. It’s a collaborative effort to keep everybody safe.”
The decision is sometimes collaborative because snow days have an effect across many other town departments. For example, when the Town Engineer gets word that schools are closed, some of the pressure to rush through snow removal is relieved.
In addition to local relations, Connellan said he and other neighboring district superintendents will often connect and discuss what their thoughts are on the impending storms. They try to stay on the same page when coming down to a final decision.
Additional snow days are expected in January, February, March—and occasionally even in April. By the time April vacation comes around, the administration typically knows what the last day of school will be, and it’s announced during a Board of Education meeting.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.