Dear RPS Students, Staff, and Families,
A number of you have contacted me and others in our school district's central administration to ask or express opinions about my decision not to declare snow days this week, and so I want to provide you with a brief summary of how we made those decisions. Whenever there is the possibility of significant snow or other bad weather, our district's transportation manager, myself, and other leaders connect with each other at 4:30 AM. We always monitor multiple weather forecasts as we evaluate the situation, and if it looks like we may need to cancel school, our transportation manager has a conversation with a member of the staff at the National Weather Service in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, which is responsible for monitoring our region. There are three primary factors that go into the decision to cancel school due to inclement weather: road conditions, visibility, and projections for incoming weather during the course of the day. As we evaluate these factors, keeping our students, staff, and families safe is our highest priority. That said, because we live in Minnesota, we can't cancel school every time it snows and we must also consider other factors. In addition to the fact that canceling school deprives students of important time for learning, it also forces thousands of parents of young children whose jobs cannot be done at home and who are unable to take vacation or unpaid leave to find child care for their children on very short notice. Still further, for some of our students, the breakfast and lunch they receive at school is a major source of support for their families.
One week ago, on Friday, December 9th, I decided that the weather conditions were bad enough to cancel school and we called a snow day. We did that primarily because visibility was very poor due to blowing snow at precisely the time when school buses and parents would have been driving students to school. Yesterday, Thursday, December 15, was a tougher call. Some snow had accumulated overnight, but at 5 AM the National Weather Service was predicting Rochester would only get an additional inch and reports were that road conditions would be slow but satisfactory. So I decided that we could have school and we remained open. As it turned out, we received several more inches than projected and the driving was very difficult. Knowing what we know now, I would have canceled school on Thursday but once the decision has been made in the early morning and buses have hit the streets, it's not possible to reconsider and call a snow day later in the morning. As for this morning, Friday, December 16, while I know that driving was again difficult in many parts of Rochester, we were nowhere close to meeting the criteria for closing school. Weather forecasts project total accumulation of about 1 inch of snow, and if we canceled school with that level of precipitation we would have so many snow days we would need to make them up by adding days well into June.
Unfortunately, the size and complexity of our transportation system in Rochester make 2 hour late starts impractical in our community, whereas smaller districts and districts with different busing systems can utilize that option. For RPS, the choice is generally all or nothing when it comes to opening school during bad weather.
There are two other points that I think are important to make about the decisions I made this week. First, it is not true, as some on social media have posted, that RPS students were injured in bus accidents this week. We have received no reports of any injuries, which we would take very seriously. Second, while I absolutely understand the frustration that many may have felt about the decision not to close school on one or more days this week, the ways that some people expressed their displeasure were really inappropriate. Numerous phone calls and emails that were directed not only at me but also at other staff included profanity and claimed that we are incompetent and don't care for the safety of our students and our staff. Receiving criticism goes with the job of superintendent, but I am confident that the vast majority of you would be shocked and dismayed at the way some members of our community talked to receptionists and office managers who had no role in deciding whether or not to call a snow day.
Feedback is invaluable in helping me and other leaders in RPS continually learn and improve, and I want you to know that I have heard that feedback and will keep it in mind when making decisions about snow days in the future. I hope, however, that any questions or concerns about those decisions will be made in ways that reflect the fact that we are working very hard to balance competing priorities and make decisions with incomplete information on a very tight timeframe.
Kent Pekel, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools