Making a permanent impression since 1994
February 23, 2004
The slippery process of closing school
By Eric Simmons
Whenever snowflakes fall, kidswatch the weather reports and pray fervently for a snow day.
Most students don’t know everythingthat goes into calling off school.
“I think they look at the weatherthe night before, but hold out into the morning to see if it will clear up,” said Nicole Dube, a sophomore at Bristol Eastern High School.
“They probably have to look at theweather patterns to see where it is going to hit,” said freshman Amber Brown.
Sophomore Krystle Kozuch said, “Idon’t know, I think they should just close it.”
But declaring a snow day is a complicatedprocess.
Roads have to be checked, peoplehave to be called, deadlines have to be met, and weather forecasts need to be reliable, or a bogus decision might be made.
It all starts at 3 or 4 a.m. whenVincent Bartucca, the supervisor of buildings and grounds for the Bristol school district, heads out to check the city’s roads. Areas such as Witches Rock Road, Wolcott Street, Willis Street, Peacedale Street, and other sloping roads are checked first, according to Superintendent Michael Wasta.
Bartucca gets back to Wasta by 5a.m., when a conference call is made between Bristol and officials from surrounding towns, to get their input on road conditions and decisions.
Wasta also keeps his eye on mediaoutlet forecasts, to help make his decision.
Wasta contacts the Bartucca by5:15 a.m., the superintendent said, and he tries to have a final decision by 5:30.
Once the decision is made, a phonechain begins with four to five people on the district staff. “One person on the chain is responsible for calling the media outlets to tell them what the Bristol public schools is doing,” said Wasta.
The chain then reaches all facultyand staff of the public schools in Bristol.
Rather than physically checking theroads himself, Wasta said he relies completely on information from others to make his decisions.
Delays run along the same lines asclosings, except some new factors are taken into consideration.
“A major issue with a delay is timing,”said Wasta.
Bristol schools must clear all parkinglots and about 30 miles of public sidewalk before opening school each day, Wasta said.
Bristol used to have three types ofdelays, Wasta said, a one-hour delay, a 90-minute delay, and a two-hour delay.
Wasta said that people became confusedover the different delays, so the district switched to just a 90-minute delay, closing completely, or keeping school open and on time.
A couple of weeks ago Bristolclosed for a “wind chill day.”
“The wind chill day was interesting,because it was the first time that we have ever done that before,” said Wasta. “The wind chill readings were up to 30 below that morning.”
In Bristol, 65 to 75 percent of studentstake the bus and 30 to 35 percent walk, which is dangerous in severe wind chill.
Wasta said such low wind chill temperaturescan give exposed skin frostbite in just 10 minutes.
“So we called the superintendentsin states such as Maine and Wisconsin and asked them what their policies on wind chills was,” said Wasta. “Those are places that deal with this quite often.”
He found out that wind chills thatare at least 25 to 30 below zero will close school, Wasta said. Based on that and other information, he said, school was closed that day.
Occasionally, even the best forecastsfail.
“We are pretty good at our decisions,but we do make mistakes,” Wasta said.
“Sometimes we have a really badsnowstorm forecasted, so we close school early, and nothing comes.”
“You do have to remember that thisis New England, and the weather always changing, so it’s hard to get perfect 100 percent of the time,” said Wasta.
Whether or not they know all thework that goes into canceling school, most students are just hoping for that extra hour of sleep.
|© 2003 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.|