Grace Ballenger – Staff Writer
It’s a Thursday, and you wake up to the winter light streaming in your window. Wait! It’s a Thursday, you should be up before the sun! Somewhat panicked, you roll over to look at your clock. Yikes, you only have twenty minutes to get ready and to get to school! You jump out of bed and throw on the nearest clothes you can find. You tumble downstairs- and find your mom sitting calmly on the couch. “It’s a snow day, honey,” she says in response to the bewildered expression on your face.
Chances are that this may have occurred to you this winter. So far, Holliston has had four snow days, a number that seems unusually high for a community where the chances of getting a snow day are usually slim to none. In the wake of all these snow days, the school seems to be buzzing with questions: Why all the snow days? How will all these snow days affect summer break? And perhaps the most frightening question of all for many students: Will vacation time be lost to make up days? Dr. Bradford Jackson agreed to answer some of these burning (or, more accurately freezing) questions.
Dr. Jackson said that he uses a variety of resources to help in his decisions to cancel school. He gets up at 4:30 in the morning and, since he lives about 40 miles away, calls the TV stations in Boston for the forecast. His next step is to call the head of the highway department. This will give him an idea of the conditions of the road. And, although it seems like Holliston snow days are never matched up with those of the surrounding towns, Dr. Jackson actually calls the superintendents of several nearby schools, including Hopkinton and Dover Sherborn, to find the conditions of towns where teachers live.
If Dr. Jackson decides that there is to be a snow day, he immediately takes steps to makes sure that the news gets out. He calls in to the TV stations in Boston with the special codes that will allow him to put the news on those stations. He must also tell the local Fire Department about the snow day. Finally, he makes the first calls in a snow chain of teachers, where each teacher is responsible for informing a few other teachers of the news. Along the way, someone calls HCAT, the local cable company to tell them to put the news on the local cable stations. Dr. Jacksons says that he tries to decide whether or not a day will be a snow day by between 5:15 and 5:30 in the morning.
Another interesting question concerning snow days is determining the difference between a full snow day and a delay or an early dismissal. The key difference between a snow day and a delay or an early dismissal, in the legal sense, is that a delay or an early dismissal counts as a school day, while a snow day does not. Therefore, snow days must be made up, while delays or early dismissals don’t have to be made up. Dr. Jackson says that if it looks like the snow is going to stop early, but the plows need more time to clear the road he may call for a delay. He also said that he doesn’t like early dismissals because, “It’s very hard to notify parents, especially of little kids,” like those at Placentino or Miller. Jackson states that he usually tries to notify parents before they leave for work.
Another concern is the impact that the snow days will have on the school year. There are, according to Dr. Jackson, five extra days that are designed to accommodate snow days built into the end of the school year. Holliston has only had four snow days so far, and is still within the allotted number of extra snow days. In Massachusetts, students are required to go to school for 180 days a year. If the scheduled number of days is exceeded, school may have to take place during the scheduled April Vacation or school will be scheduled for some Saturdays. But fortunately, in seven years of working as a superintendent, Dr. Jackson has never had an occasion where snow days have cut into vacation, so it seems unlikely to happen.
Snow days are necessary for the safety of the Holliston community, but are also a logistical challenge for all those involved. The decisions involved are therefore complicated and involve many people. Perhaps the best summary of snow days was given by Dr. Jackson when addressing his reputation for never calling school off: “I know I have this reputation. This is New England, but kids should be in school as long as it’s safe.”