In cases of inclement weather, when should a school district delay or cancel classes for the day?
As an urban district, those choices for Fort Wayne Community Schools aren't as simple as anyone involved might want them to be.
Tuesday evening's massive snowfall resulted in the greater Fort Wayne area seeing as much as 10 inches of accumulation and ultimately resulted in school being canceled for Wednesday - but not as quickly as some might have liked, FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman acknowledged.
In explaining how FWCS arrives at its decisions, perhaps it is best to explain, in general, how the process works while attempting to dispel some misconceptions about how the district approaches weather events.
First: The district doesn't have makeup days for weather-related closures, per se, built into its schedule. So while students may feel joy initially when a full-day closure is announced, make no mistake: At some point, that day of classroom instruction is going to happen.
There have been two weather-related closures so far this year, and students will make up those days May 17 and June 5. June 4 was scheduled to be the last day of the school year, Stockman said.
There are days during the school year when classes are not in session, Stockman explained, but those days - examples include end-of-semester days in January and June - are actually work days for FWCS employees. Teachers, for example, use those days to prepare report cards and meet other instructional needs.
In fact, even weather-related closures aren't automatically off-days for district employees. Unless a snow emergency is in effect where travel is prohibited by the city, district employees either have to report to work or use a vacation day, Stockman said.
Second: No, FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson doesn't live to make the call at the last minute to close every single school, idling tens of thousands of students and forcing parents to adjust their schedules.
As a matter of fact, Robinson isn't really involved in that decision. It should be easy to understand why that would be the case - her slate of responsibilities can't be tied to one specific day of instruction, though Stockman explained that Robinson's input is welcome.
Instead, FWCS' process goes like this: Transportation division employees hit the road around 4 a.m. on school days where inclement weather has taken place, reporting in from all over the district about the ability to safely travel on the roads. Those findings are weighed by the district's transportation division director, who makes a recommendation to the district's chief operations officer.
It is the chief operations officer who makes that final determination, with Stockman explaining that the district tries to have delays announced by 5:30 a.m. and closures by 7:30 a.m.
So, what happened on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, when there was clearly significant snowfall? Why no immediate announcement of a delay or closure?
Stockman did not say this quite as succinctly, but there's simply no way around certain facts: Fort Wayne is not a small city. It has a fleet of snowplows and salt trucks and drivers. While admittedly heavy, the bulk of the snowfall took place Tuesday evening.
Any district, including FWCS, has to give those mechanisms an opportunity to be employed, then assess how they fare, before making a decision to shut down - because, again, those days do not just vanish. The day of instruction has to take place. If closures begin to accumulate, then school years start to bleed into time that parents thought classes would no longer be in session, which leads to complaints anew.
For example, the hullabaloo when graduation schedules were impacted a few years back due to snow days being made up won't soon be forgotten.
"We really do consider safety first," Stockman said. "That really is our primary concern. That being said, if we can get students to school, the preference is to do that so instruction can take place."