Administrators clear up common misconceptions about snow days


Photo illustration Claire Smout

As soon as that little snowflake symbol shows up on the weather forecast, the possibility of a snow day is on every student’s mind. Students frantically start looking up radar, wind chill predictions, and the famous snow day calculator hoping for a day off. But what really goes into the decision?

“There are several misconceptions. A few are the belief that I make the decision in isolation and without outside communications, the belief that the decision is made quickly and the belief that I should follow the forecast on local television as sole source,” Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty said. “The biggest misconception though is that because I am from the north, I do not call off school; safety is the biggest issue.”

Although Marty is responsible for making the final decision for Parkway, he does not make the decision without conversing with superintendents from neighboring school districts first.

“We will likely stay in touch with one another, sharing information we have become aware of from weather sources,” Marty said.

Marty watches weather forecast and information from the Missouri Department Of Transportation (MODOT) several days in advance in order to make the best decision possible.

“Often the timing of a storm front or its intensity are important factors. The ability of our school personnel to clean parking lots and sidewalks, as well as get salt down, is important,” Marty said. “To effectively ensure our operations personnel are informed—those who will clear parking lots, drive buses, prepare lunches—I need to determine if school will be held as normal by 5 a.m.”

The biggest misconception though is that because I am from the north, I do not call off school; safety is the biggest issue.”

— Keith Marty

Like Marty, students often keep themselves updated on the forecast as well, trying to predict what the call will be. This is not easy, however, since the district’s decision-making process is not based solely on numerical predictions.

“We do not have specific or defined cutoffs. As far as snow, we will ask if we can clear streets, parking lots and sidewalks and we also look at what MODOT is predicting as a snow amount,” Marty said. “We certainly watch the temperature and the wind chill, and any warnings coming out from medical sources.”

Another factor administration has to consider when deciding whether or not to have school in severe winter weather is transportation.

“I have to say ice and specifically black ice, the kind you don’t see until too late, is the worst for all vehicles,” Parkway Director of Transportation Will Rosa said. “Most of us remember the weather event that occurred in December 2016 when the temperature dropped quickly in the afternoon just enough to turn the rain into freezing rain, sleet and ice and it made conditions slick, very unsafe and challenging.”

In addition to precipitation, extreme cold can cause complications for buses making it harder to get students to and from school.

“Really cold temperatures, like when [it was] zero degrees a few weeks ago, will require an early morning pre-start to help get bus engines up to safe operating temperatures which, in turn, will generate heat for the interior of the buses,” Rosa said.

No matter how many oranges are frozen, pajamas worn inside-out, or ice cubes placed in the toilet; if buses are able to run, roads conditions are fair, and the temperature is safe, the school day is likely inevitable.

“I have no influence at all on the decision, but Dr. Marty uses all of the information at his disposal to make an educated decision in the best interest of kids,” Principal Jeremy Mitchell said. “And no, unfortunately, Twitter pleas have no impact on his decision.”