Mike Town, one of Tesla STEM High School’s founding teachers, is a recipient of the Patsy Collins Award for Excellence in Education, Environment, and Community.
School Closure Decisions
Safety is the priority
In emergency situations, such as snow and icy weather conditions, the top priority is the safety of students and staff. The district also recognizes that snow days disrupt family schedules and extend the school year. The decision to close schools is not an easy one.
It’s also complicated by the fact that the district covers 76 square miles, including low-lying areas next to Lake Washington as well as higher altitudes at Finn Hill, Education Hill and the Sammamish Plateau.
In one part of the district, the roads may be perfectly clear while other areas are struggling with several inches of snow.
To help make the best possible decision, the district gathers a lot of information first. A meteorologist is on contract to provide pinpoint predictions for the specific microclimates around our area. He helps the district understand which areas may be affected by upcoming weather and which may not.
Predictions are one thing. Actual conditions are another. That’s why the transportation department staff is on the roads around the district at 3 a.m. if it looks like a school closure might be in order. They report real road conditions. Custodians may be asked to report to work early at schools so they can report on conditions at the schools themselves.
Analyzing the data
Once all the information is collected, the support services staff forwards it to the district’s administration, based on their best analysis of the situation. There are three options available:
- Leave schools open
- Start late
- Close schools
Late start is used when conditions are borderline. The extra time and daylight make it easier for students to get to school safely.
Determining what’s best for the whole district
For communication and administrative reasons, it is not possible to close just some schools in the district while leaving other schools open for districtwide weather events. So the decision has to be the best one for the safety of students in all areas of the district while at the same time avoiding unnecessary disruption.
Superintendent makes final decision
Once the administrative staff gets the information from support services, they make a recommendation to the superintendent, who makes the final decision. If there is a closure or a late start, the staff begins the communication system to get the word out to parents, students and teachers.