Close a few or close them all? Let’s talk about snow days.

Benzing Road in Antioch, outside Brookview Estates

Closing schools is never an easy decision to make. It comes only after extensive thought and consideration of all factors involved. But ultimately, only one factor truly matters: student safety.

Supervisors in the Transportation Department – dubbed “The Snow Patrol” – drive hundreds of roads in Nashville assessing the conditions. They drive roads where school buses travel and take pictures along the way. Those pictures are shared with the director of transportation and the chief operating officer. They listen to the reports of which roads might be hazardous and make a recommendation of whether or not schools should close.

This is a tried and true system that has served the district for many years, but recently there has been a growing call to revisit how we make the decision.

Last week, Nashville saw a familiar scenario. Much of the urban core had clear and dry streets while the more rural areas of the county were still covered in snow and ice. School buses could safely travel down Eighth Avenue, but Brick Church Pike was far too dangerous. It prompted the question, why can’t we close just a few schools at a time and let the majority of students go to school?

It’s a difficult question to answer because no matter which way it goes many families will be negatively affected. But it is a question we are looking at. What can we do differently to open as many schools as possible and not cost students valuable instructional days?

On the road to that answer, there are many more questions to ask:

  • What happens to a student who lives in Goodlettsville but attends Meigs Middle in East Nashville? Are parents expected to drive on ice-covered roads to get her to school? If not, is her absence excused? Will there be make-up work?
  • What should families do if their children attend multiple schools in different areas of town, say AZ Kelley Elementary, JT Moore Middle and Hillsboro High? If AZ Kelley is closed and Moore and Hillsboro are not, what does the parent do? Would make-up days put their children on different school calendars?
  • What is the best way to effectively communicate a complex message about selective school closings? How is that complicated if the decision is made at 4:00 a.m.? How do we ensure we effectively give complex instructions on school closings to the Metro families who speak 140 different languages?
  • What if a teacher lives in Joelton but teaches in Bellevue? Is he expected to come to work when schools in his neighborhood are closed? If he can’t make it in, is that excused? Can the school get a substitute teacher in time? What does that mean for his students?

These are a few of the many considerations that would have to go into any decision to close schools selectively based on weather. There may be answers out there we have not found yet, but we will look for them and ask for input from families and city leaders.

While it is too late to make such a major change in our procedures this year, the conversation is already underway. If you have thoughts on this, please leave them in the comments.

Posted on March 3, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. We had snow packets growing up. So if there was a threat of weather we were sent home with the activities to do related to what we were learning. They were actually fun. I remember in 4th grade doing a project on designing a tooth paste. We had to design a package and brand. This was done before the day of the internet so all on paper. We had certain activities to do on day 1 up to 10 snow days. Maybe a version of this could work. Or something that at least keeps reading and math and creative skills alive during time off. Wouldn’t need to be more than 30minutes or so. It is tough having that many families in different areas to really close selectively but it is important to keep skills on track. So even just a little prompt each day would be good.

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  2. You raise some very valid points. My husband was one of those that wondered why we just couldn’t close specific clusters last week. I think it’s worth researching.

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  3. Appreciate you all sharing some of the thinking and tradeoffs that are considered.

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  4. Can’t have the school clusters be in the same decision? Example if the Hillsboro Cluster closes all schools in that cluster are closed.

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  5. I support the process the district is presently using. My daughter’s teachers at JT Moore were great about staying in touch and offering suggested activities and ways to stay engaged with the curriculum while out. I live in the city and while main roads were clear I could not drive on my side street to get out. So I am happy with erroring on the side of safety. It’s just too hit or miss and gets even more complicated based on the scanarios raised above. Thank you for asking.

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  6. All the points you made were very valid. You also need to include the fact that some students drive themselves to school, which puts them at even more of a risk. And you also included the “decision is made at 4 AM”. I believe that can be a great inconvenience to let people know 2 hours, or sometimes earlier that that, before they leave their homes. Many of us parents aren’t even sure how to check whether or not y’all closed without finding a news channel. Thank you for being concerned for our kids safety!

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  7. A lot of valid points. Every year the board factors in snow days. As a parent who had children home with nothing to do I went to the educational websites and pulled up worksheets that related to What my children are studying at the time to keep their minds focused. It shouldn’t be up to the teachers to send work home. Our teachers go above and beyond. We as parents need to help keep our children focused on their current studies. Easy now in tech age.

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  8. I like the idea of having clusters close/open in sync. There will always be a few cases where “optional” schools, like MEIGS, will need to figure out how to handle distinct events/students, but by and large, it seems like the cluster grouping makes the most sense. Thanks for starting this discussion!

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  9. I understand lots of families out there don’t have internet. but if we could do 30min. or recorded time online, for work during those snow days that aren’t built in, to take as a grade for those days. there are plenty of sites that keep track of how much a child does. then the teacher can go on at the end of the day and grade each assignment. so the teacher can get paid for a days work. just like the kids will get accounted for the day he/she did their work. just a suggestion.

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  10. I support the current process as well. My daughter attends a magnet school in East Nashville, however we live in the Northern part of Davidson county and are commonly affected more by inclement weather. I agree that trying to pick and choose which clusters to open and close would get to complicated. This is a process that has been in place and effective for decades. I feel that the current generation of parents are in a more unfortunate situation when it comes to childcare circumstances, but are we really to risk our children’s safety because of that??? I would much rather take a day off without pay or scramble to find someone to help at the last minute. And truthfully, YMCA Fun Co offered snow day care for most days school has been out thus far with the exception of that first few really bad days.

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  11. Like other parents, I support the current system as well. Safety of students and families should always come first and it seems to be much easier to close all than a small few. We have never had an issue with make-up days and snow days have always brought a welcome break for my children and myself. Besides, we live in a neighborhood that sees many frozen outlets and I have children attending different magnet schools. Quite difficult for me to transport on regular days let alone icy ones.

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  12. I, too, like so many other parents believe that the current snow day system is best. I live in Antioch, and have two children attending two different magnet schools, MLK & Head, and I work at a Metro school. It is already challenging driving that distance in good weather, so to factor in hazardous weather conditions into the drive does not put families first, nor make matters any better. Also, picking and choosing which schools to open & close does not make much sense. My children should not be penalized (excused absence) if I physically cannot get them to school safely. I understand that the absence(s) would be excused, however, they have perfect attendance, and to be counted absence due to weather is unacceptable. Leave the school system on the snow plan that is currently on. It is the only fair and decent option for all. As parents, it is ultimately our responsibility for the safety, care, and supervision of our children anyway, so on snow days, we have to take accountability for our children. Thank you for listening.

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  13. I think that the plan in place is best, trying to figure out what school to close is too hard and in my case ,I have one child that is in the school of his zone but the other one goes across the city to mlk, what would she do if her school is open because the roads by those school are clear ,but it is bad here in Goodlettsville? She would miss an instructional day, even if excused she will miss it. The district let’s so many kids go to our of zone school that this would be a wide spread issue so it needs to stay the way it is. No answer will make everyone happy, but you have to consider all the things we have in place and do what is best for the majority. 1. Lots of kids go to our of zone schools
    2. Because your neighborhood is clear does not mean my less traveled shady street is also clear.
    3. What about the 16 year old drivers?
    4. what are parents to do if one students school is open and the other ones school is closed?
    Just a few things to consider.

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  14. I think magnet cluster should be kept out of the school system when it comes to snow days. Transportation is not provided by Metro anyway, so just like private schools, families are responsible of driving their students to school. The fact that school buses cannot enter some back streets becomes irrelevant. If most Nashville private schools are open, public schools should be too. Anyone feels uncomfortable driving can keep their child at home.

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  15. Gita Chandramouly

    If more than 75 percent of roads are OK to travel, then keep those schools open. Where students and teachers are concerned, it should be treated as an excused leave and children that reach school late on those days should not be given tardy because it is quite possible that the lane they live in could be difficult to drive before they reach the main road where it is clear. Regarding school closing information, giving it in the local news channel, posting in MNPS site and emails giving ilist of closed schools/late starting should do. Telephone message with details is not possible. Just a simple message check media/website/emails should do.

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  16. You really need to consider a cluster system, or limit bus service and have attendance optional for those on outlying rural roads. There has to be another option over shutting down the entire school system, especially when the overwhelming majority of students can safely make it to school. The current system puts a strain on working parents, who lose income or vacation time (if they even have it), especially those paid by the hour. I heard of a few people in the service industry whose jobs have been threatened by not being able to work. The current system may have good intentions, but it’s seriously flawed.

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  17. f1uffernutter

    I believe when my daughter was little and attending Julia Green, the policy was “school is open, so if you can safely get children to school, you can do so.” Families attending from iced-in areas or far-flung neighborhoods didn’t feel pressured to drive, and families nearby or in cleared areas sent their children to school. I realize elementary schools draw from smaller zones though.

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  18. I am wondering why the district never opens late. Is this because busses run routes for elementary, middle and high, or for another reason? While that would not have helped the situation last week, might it be an option for cold mornings with no precipitation?

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  19. Concerned Parent

    I agree that the current system works best for all the reasons you stated in your article. As a teacher who parents four Metro students, which one day will be five, I have had them at three different schools at once, on opposite sides of town. That already makes up a hectic morning but then having to factor in different openings and closings with inclement weather and trying to get myself to work to greet my students at the door just seems insane. I vote to stay with the current schedule but factor in more than 5 snow days as history proves it is almost always never enough. Maybe move to the 10 many other districts allow.

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  20. I am in favor of exploring options on closing schools by cluster. The number of students that would benifit would outweigh the few that might not be able to get to school due to poor road conditions. I would also like to see technology used to communicate with students and parents about assignments, and assessments.

    My child goes to Rose Park Middle. I did not receive anything, not even one e-mail from the school about assignments or activities to keep the learning going over the snow days. None of my child’s teachers maintain websites or blogs. It would have been very helpful if these forms of communication would have been available to give assignments and collect homework. Depending on the age of the student, a whole lot can be accomplished working independently outside the classroom setting with a little direction.

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  21. I see the points being made here and the system would and could work if our school system didn’t contain magnets schools. Closing certain school clusters could affect how many students show up at their magnet schools. You might end up with 1/2 of the school population not showing up because of where they live and not being able to make it all the way across town. It’s a risky and complicated concept that has a domino affect.

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  22. As a Metro teacher who does NOT live in Davidson Co., closing specific locations may have an impact on the teacher’s ability to report to school. It has been a recent issue with getting subs to cover classes on non-weather related day and if you believe that you’ll get them to come in on a treacherous driving day…you’re fooling yourself! Subs cancel with just the ‘threat’ of snow and with what we pay them, I wouldn’t risk it either. I don’t teach in a rural area, I work just 6 miles from my school, while it wouldn’t impact me, I know others would be greatly affected. Williamson Co. (where I live and have a child in school) builds in 10 weather related days and if they are not used, they get them back at the end if the year, why isn’t this a consideration for metro…then the could all stay on the same school schedule.

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  23. There are 5000+ teachers in MNPS. Some live in surrounding counties, and others live in the outer reachers of Davidson County. If enough of them decide to stay home due to the outskirts being dangerous, who will teach the students? It is often hard enough to find qualified subs on normal days; imagine if 15% of the teachers decided they couldn’t make it to school. In that instance, closing by cluster wouldn’t make a difference; indeed, we would be putting people at risk and creating confusion only to have students sitting in auditoriums so they can be supervised by principals. In any case, this has been an unusual year; typically MNPS ends up with snow days left over, so this is really much ado about nothing.

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  24. concerned employee

    Has anyone mentioned that the snow day issue is only relevant every 10 to 15 years?

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  25. Coming from the far north where snow days abound, I don’t understand the difficulties that the district claims to have in not being able to close select schools.

    Why not give principals the authority to determine whether school will be open or not? Principals already send out school-specific robo-calls. It is simple enough to send out a call to parents in their school districts to alert them of closings. When I was growing up, we would watch the morning news to see if our school was closed.
    Growing up on a farm, there were times when snowplows would not make it out to my area for at least a day when school was back in session. It was no different than being sick, I made up my work when I got back. I never had a problem with so many unexcused absences that I had to be held back a grade!

    Schools already enact separate curriculum schedules. Schools already have independently organized field-trips that interfere with regular curriculum enactment. It isn’t like all the schools in the district need to be in lock-step with one another!

    Why can’t some schools open when the roads in their zone are clear and others stay closed?

    If you are concerned about children’s safety, then maybe we should be more concerned about the affected children’s quality of life when schools are not in session!
    MOST inner-city children RELY on school breakfast and lunch for food everyday, and MANY suffer from inadequate heating situations at home. Also, MANY of these children remain at home ALONE because their parents cannot afford to take off work!

    Maybe we should stop thinking about our own circumstances, and THINK OF THE OTHER LESS FORTUNATE CHILDREN!!

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  26. While the conversation does bring up many interesting points, the one issue to keep at the front of the burner is student safety. I think the current system is the best answer when you are trying to maintain student safety for 75,000 + students. We are in a large metropolitan area. It stands to reason that some areas will receive different weather than others. I believe that it would be better for MNPS to factor in more snow days in the system than in previous years. With global warming and climate change, it stands to reason that we will in future years experience more of these big winter storms. Metro Nashville could always invest in more equipment to clear the streets and that would help solve the problem.

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  27. I understand the complications but think our district is so large, geographically, that across-the-board closure just doesn’t make sense. Following the storm a couple of weeks ago, East Nashville kids could have gone back to school 2-3 days before schools actually reopened. Especially knowing that many of those kids are at higher risk for educational problems and/or depend on the meals they get at school, I think those 2-3 days were a very unfortunate (and completely unnecessary) loss.

    One possible solution to this kind of situation: a city district that encompasses the urban core, coupled with a county district that covers the outlying areas. Metro already operates this way for services such as trash collection (USD vs. GSD), and it’s a setup that seems to work well for Franklin/Brentwood/Williamson County.

    I also think Metro could do a better job of managing inclement weather response to minimize snow days. Why not establish snow routes for buses that rely on the roads the county targets for clearing? Or do a better job of targeting the roads buses have to travel? I’d love to see Metro look into tackling this from both sides of the issue: delving deeper into the feasibility of zoned closure, while also looking for more ways to minimize closures if we stick with a county-wide system.

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  28. Thanks for publishing this article about our districts snow days and how it is determined if schools should be open or closed. I agree with others, the current Metro plan in place is the best and safest for families. Hopefully, this article has been read by the majority of our parents in the Metro Davidson County area, as some simply don’t know the complete policy and procedures for closing schools. Many parents are only considering their situation and circumstance and not the districts. I’m a metro teacher who lives in the Antioch area, and travel 25 miles to work in an inner city school. I also have 2 children, one at Head Magnet, who rides the city bus, (city buses stop running in inclement weather) and my son attends his zoned school in Antioch. I’m sharing this, because its a prime example of no stablity with cluster closings. Metro should keep the same plan and maybe add in more snow days, and if not used we get them back at the end of the year. Also, the cluster closing of schools will have a negative impact on students achievement with assessments, especially when some will be getting in school instruction and others are not. Snow days will be a great time for students and families to make use of gradespeed assignments and download assignments for his/her grade level. For those students who may not have a computer, this will be a good time to telephone another family, homework hot line, or use the public library for help in skilled lessons.

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