Superintendent makes the tough, early call on snow days

A wintry mix of snow and freezing rain Tuesday led to an early afternoon decision by Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) superintendent James Weiss to cancel after-school activities.

Although a vast storm packed a wallop from Texas to the East Coast, no schools on the Cape or Islands were closed or had delayed openings or early dismissals because of it, Mr. Weiss pointed out in a phone conversation with The Times.

Island schools opened as usual, but temperatures that hovered around freezing throughout the morning caused problems later.

“I’m in Tisbury now, and I’ll tell you, the roads are fine,” Mr. Weiss said in a phone call early Tuesday afternoon. “But the roads up-Island are not as good, and some of the sidewalks are slippery, so we have canceled all after-school activities and hopefully all the buses will get home safely.”

With another storm expected yesterday, Mr. Weiss planned to be up at 4 am to decide whether to delay or close school. The weather, dreadful but not dangerous, meant that Wednesday was business as usual.

What plays a part in the superintendent’s decision? Mr. Weiss said on the day of a snowstorm, he and MVPS transportation manager Jim Flynn are out driving by 4 am.

“He goes up-Island and I do the three down-Island towns to get a sense of what the roads are like,” Mr. Weiss said.

After they compare notes, Mr. Weiss contacts a weather service that provides forecasts for schools in towns on the Cape and Islands. He must make a decision on whether to delay or close schools by 5 am, in order to notify bus drivers who start their first runs at 5:30.

Mr. Weiss said the three major considerations are whether students can walk safely to a bus stop, whether side roads as well as main roads are passable for buses, and whether road conditions are too hazardous for school staff and students who drive to school.

He then has four options — cancel school, delay opening by two hours, cancel after-school activities, or dismiss students early, which, he said, causes trouble for some parents who can’t get home and must make arrangements for childcare.

“There’s just no right answer,” Mr. Weiss said. “No matter what happens, someone will be unhappy, but we try to make the best decision we can.”

As of Tuesday, the Island’s public schools have used one of five snow days built into the school-year calendar. That makes the last day of school Tuesday, June 21.