Snow decisions not always easy call

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By: Michael Wang <mwang@hilite.org>

On Dec. 6, it was dark outside with nearly three inches of snow already on the ground. With the wind coursing through her hair, freshman Kaitlin Shaffer walked toward her bus stop, her mind preoccupied with the math test that she would have to take later that day.

She said, “I almost slipped on the ice, and there was so much snow on the sidewalk that I had to walk in the streets and almost got hit by a car.”

Shaffer said these conditions should have warranted a two-hour delay or even a snow day. In fact, many schools in the area, including Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield and Noblesville had delays. Carmel was the exception.

However, Superintendent Barbara Underwood, who has the final judgment call in whether Carmel Clay Schools have snow days or two- hour delays, said, “This early in the year, it would be irresponsible to take that lightly and just say, ‘Let’s just have a snow day,’ because normally the worst weather in the winter comes in February and early March, and if we use two to three days now, I can almost assure you we are going to make up days at the end of the year. You can’t get a waiver for bad weather from the state.”

The state, according to Underwood, mandates students to attend school for 180 days, and if students go for fewer than 180 days, then the district must make them up, either by going to school on Saturdays or adding them on to the end of the school year.

As for the latter possibility, Underwood said, “(I) would work with our school board and our teachers and decide when to make it up. I would be hard pressed to recommend the Saturday again (because) it is just not effective.” Years ago, Carmel Clay students had to attend school on Saturday, and according to Underwood, because many students did not attend school that day by calling in sick or by another method, attendance levels were affected negatively.

Carmel Clay Schools actually offer 182 days of instruction. The calendar includes two additional flex days, so that means with the two extra days and the flex days, according to Underwood, the district can actually miss four complete days before it is required to make them up. However, two-hour delays don’t go against the state requirement of going to school for 180 days.

For the conditions that would qualify us for a snow day or two-hour delay, Underwood said it takes a number of factors, but the bottom line is if the buses can safely transport students to their respective schools.

“What people look for (is) if it is below a certain temperature, if there is this much snow, if there is this much ice, and you can’t go by that. It is not like a standard where you check it off,” she said. “Snow is not bad (because) our buses do well in snow, (but) they don’t do well on ice.”

In response to Dec. 6 of last semester where Carmel didn’t receive a two-hour delay while nearby districts, such as Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield and Noblesville did receive one, Shaffer said, “I was really mad at whoever decided it because the rest of the schools got two-hour delays, and we had to go to school normal time.”

It is Underwood’s ultimate decision on whether the district should have snow days and two-hour delays. However, according to Underwood, there are transportation people who check the roads as well and provide feedback.

She said, “(Director of transportation) Ron Ferrand makes the recommendations, and I have to make the final decision, but he is the one and his staff that can say our buses will be fine. I absolutely listen to the (transportation) people who know a lot more about bus travel and who have been checking the roads.”

If students disagree with Underwood’s decision to not have a snow day or a two-hour delay, Underwood said they can always voice their opinion. “I would hope they understand that first of all they can only have three (days they can miss completely); those aren’t like, ‘Let’s take three because we are given three,’” Underwood said. “I listen to people and try to respond and tell them we are worried about safety, but our obligation is to have school when we think is reasonable.”

She also said, “I think students are always wanting days. It is a treat, but I do believe in the long run they understand our job is to have school. I would be irresponsible if, ‘Oh yes just come two hours late,’ or ‘Let’s just call off,’ and in the long run students won’t benefit from it.

“People always let me know when they are unhappy with something, but they rarely let me know when they are happy, but that is human nature.”

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