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How school superintendents decide whether to cancel class

Safety is the main factor
Dr. Jeff Butts, superintendent in MSD Wayne Township, takes into account a variety of factors when deciding whether to cancel school, but the main factor is safety for students, families and staff.
Posted at 5:31 PM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 18:31:55-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Wednesday's snow prompted hundreds of schools throughout Central Indiana to call for a snow day or e-learning day.

Dayna Atkinson is a mother in Wayne Township and was hoping for a snow day rather than e-learning.

“The kids are at the age where I would have to sit and make sure they are doing everything correctly,” said Atkinson. “I personally would prefer to just have a snow day so we can do whatever we want."

School superintendents take into account a variety of factors when deciding whether to cancel school, but the main factor is safety for students, families and staff.

Dr. Jeff Butts, superintendent at MSD Wayne Township, said there is no specific amount of snowfall that results in a school cancelation.

Rather, they look at factors like:

  • Temperatures
  • Windchill
  • Timeline of snow
  • Where in the season the storm hits

"The first snow is always the most challenging because people are not used to navigating,” said Dr. Butts. “This is really our first snow of the season. We have not had a good snow yet.”

The superintendent also has to factor in the impact to working families when school is canceled, plus children missing out on medical services and meals.

"75 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and 100 percent of our children eat their breakfast and lunch with us every day,” said Butts. “That may be the best meal they get, so that is a critical factor for us."

The availability of e-learning means many superintendents are canceling school the night before, but not in Wayne Township.

"At 4:15 a.m., I was already in my vehicle,” said Dr. Butts. “I always like to drive our roads. I don't want to rely on someone else's perception."

At 4:55 a.m., Butts made the call on Twitter— a snow day.

“It's a ton of pressure,” said Butts. “It would have been much easier to make the decision last night and get a good night's sleep and not get up in the cold weather. But I believe I owe it to our children and families to make the best decision I can."

Dayna Atkinson's kids throw snow in the air and enjoy their day off from school on Jan. 25, 2023.

MSD Wayne Township builds in two inclement weather days into their schedule. Other districts, like Hamilton Southeastern Schools, are doing the same.

“What we have built into our calendar is two flex days for things like inclement weather like today,” said HSE Asst. Superintendent Matt Kegley. “And if we have to go to a third day, a portion of that day will be synchronous learning which means a live instruction with the teacher and students. "

The Avon Community School Corporation says there is no formula for the amount of snow, ice, sleet, wind or low temperature necessary to cause a delay, early dismissal or cancellation.

Typically a team of administrators hit the Avon roads before 4:30 a.m. to assess.

“They compare notes, watch developments and consult with local authorities on road conditions,” read the district’s policy. “We strive to make a decision and communicate with parents by 6:00 am.”

As the snowy streets turned to watery slush, superintendents wondered if they made the right call.

“I personally would have loved to see us in school today and looking out my window and know we could have gotten our children home,” said Butts. “But looking back to 4 a.m. and the best information I had, I was not confident that we could have gotten our children home safely.”

Superintendent Butts says he rarely uses two-hour delays because they can be even more disruptive to families than a cancelation.