OCEAN COUNTY – After winter storm Stella largely bypassed the county on March 14, residents chalked up the snow day that children got as an overreaction, but school districts said that careful consideration of a lot of factors goes into the decision to close school before the weather gets really bad.
“I say all the time that the most difficult decision that I make are school closings,” said Thomas Gialanella, interim superintendent of Brick schools. “People laugh but it is one of the only decisions I make that can affect so many people.”
The weather report is just one of the many factors that go into that decision, he said. “You take into account student and staff safety and how the decision will affect working parents that are in need of child care if they are home.”
Timing is important, he said. School officials monitor the weather as it changes, and keep in contact with police and other school officials to see how ready the school would be to open if needed.
Liability is of course an issue. All it takes is one accident caused by the weather and the school could be held liable for keeping school open, he said.
“It is all based on ‘better safe than sorry,’ said Central Regional Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides. There is a liability concern that is very real, even if the storm turns out not to be real.
“All the superintendents communicate but Ocean County has basically three weather zones so it is difficult to make a decision but we are basically going by our local weather man,” he said.
The issue came up at the Central Regional Board of Education meeting. Member Michael Passeri said residents were calling him complaining about the day off. One point of contention was that if the governor declares a state of emergency, does that automatically mean that school is cancelled?
The state of emergency does not guarantee a school closing, board attorney Mark Toscano said. It’s a local decision.
There’s a liability issue when sending kids – and employees – out into inclement weather, especially if every other adjacent district closes, Parlapanides said during the meeting.
Passeri agreed with these assessments, and repeated the point about not putting any staff or students in danger while “driving a school bus across the Seaside bridge in 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts.”