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Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills

February 5, 2014

There’s ‘snow’ place like home

By Elizabeth Scussel and Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writers

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William Engel, 3, of Beverly Hills, has some fun in the elements despite the frigid temperatures that caused multiple school closings in recent weeks.

BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD HILLS — To a young student, there’s not much that parallels the fun and excitement of a snow day.

But does that excitement begin to wane when you’ve reached a full week of canceled classes? For many parents, it sure does. Last week, Birmingham Public Schools and Bloomfield Hills Schools closed down schools for the fifth time this year due to inclement weather. The excessive snow and bitter temperatures that the polar vortex brought to Michigan were deemed simply too dangerous for kids to make their way to the classroom.

On Jan. 27, as word began to circulate that BPS and BHS would close their doors for the fifth time, chatter began among parents as to how much is too much school to be missed. BPS Superintendent Daniel Nerad sent an email to try to address some of the concerns.

“Please be assured that my decision to close schools is never made lightly,” wrote Nerad in the prepared statement. “Your student’s safety is my No. 1 priority. Since this is only January, we may be faced with more difficult weather-related decisions.”

He explained in the email how he decides whether classes will be held as scheduled or if it’s safer to allow students to stay home for the day. He said his method includes information on travel conditions from the district’s transportation department, meteorological predictions of temperature and wind chill factors, parking lot conditions, and the amount of snow and ice that has accumulated in the area.

“I also consult with the other Oakland County school superintendents in a teleconference prior to each of us making our individual decision,” he added. “This teleconference assists me in determining the viability of holding school. In Tuesday’s closing (Jan. 28) and prior closings this school year, temperature and wind chill have been the factors that I considered in making my decision.”

BHS Superintendent Robert Glass also released a statement explaining the process by which he makes school closing decisions.

“Often, a designated member of my administration will drive district roads between 3-4:30 a.m. and report to me findings and recommendations that help inform my decision. I also consult with weather authorities and other area superintendents, but ultimately, I have to make a decision based on what I feel is in the best interest of Bloomfield Hills students,” Glass explained in the letter.

“To minimize disruption to the educational process, the goal is always to keep school in session unless road conditions, severe cold or other wintery conditions pose a significant risk to student safety. This year, record snowfalls and extended bitter cold have been reacting with one another, making actual conditions even tougher to accurately predict.

”

Glass added that there is no defined depth of snow accumulation that indicates closure because of the overall effect of wind, ice, temperature, humidity and other factors. Likewise, he said, there is no exact temperature that indicates closure, and whenever possible, the school district tries to provide advance notice of school cancellation so parents can make alternate plans.

“There is no way to be perfect with this. I can only make the best possible decision in real time with the best available information,” Glass wrote. “Given the mounting number of cancellation days and the arrival of finals week at (Bloomfield Hills High School), I earnestly want to avoid additional closures and disruptions. Rest assured that as we navigate these unusual conditions we’re doing our very best to keep both learning and safety as our top priorities.”

Both districts decided to bring kids back Jan. 29, but by then, many parents were already irritated with the number of closures. While some lamented the inconvenience of having to find alternative child care for each snow and cold day, others were concerned with the loss of valuable instruction time for students. 

Birmingham resident Lindsey Steckling has a third-grader at Pierce Elementary. With a newborn baby at home, she said she wasn’t too inconvenienced by the closures. She is, however, worried about how the schools will make up for the lost time.

“Six days built in is kind of a lot,” said Steckling of the state’s closure allowance. “I actually hope they do something, just because they’ve been out of school for the equivalent of a week. I know somebody had said something about just adding five minutes to the end of each day or something. I, honestly, would rather have them make up the days.”

While Steckling wasn’t inconvenienced, she knows of other parents who were — not to mention the little ones stuck at home without a lesson plan to occupy their time.

“One afternoon, knowing they were going to close the schools, one of my daughter’s teachers did send her home with some more homework,” she said. “But, they’re out of school because it’s cold, so you don’t want them to go outside because it’s cold. So they’re inside and bored.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Elizabeth Scussel at escussel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1037.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.