Snow keeps falling and schools keep closing. Winter, just 34 days in, has unleashed a flurry of snowstorms across New Jersey, four of which have had a direct effect on Morris County schools causing cancellations and delays.
Mount Olive School Superintendent, Dr. Larrie Reynolds, has closed schools three times and was forced to authorize a delayed opening due to the latest snowfall on Friday, Jan. 21. Having consumed the three snow days allocated within the District’s 182-day calendar, Reynolds is faced with the likelihood of additional school closings as two months of winter weather lurks ahead.
“We will probably end up needing an additional day or two,” Reynolds said. While he is hopeful Mother Nature will be kind to his district, realistically, the veteran administrator knows he has to act responsibly and place safety first with each day in question.
“Worse case scenario is that a bus slides off the road and a student is injured or killed,” he said. Injury to his students, bus drivers and faculty members are always on the back of his mind. “We have a very good safety record and capable bus drivers and equipment,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said that the decision to close or delay school is ultimately his. “It’s the least fun part of my job,” he said. He went on to say that parent complaints are fielded regardless of his decision to close or open schools, and he would gladly trade this responsibility off.
The decision making process begins in the early morning hours when Reynolds consults with Transportation Supervisor, Diane Davidson and Buildings and Grounds Supervisor, Tom Scerbo, as well as with personnel from the Township’s Road Department. “We usually debate for about one hour on whether or not to close the schools. Usually I am the one that says keep the schools open. I tell them to drive the roads,” Reynolds said.
Going forward, should the district close due to inclement weather, Reynolds will have to order a previously scheduled day off, such as the Friday before President’s Day and or Memorial Day, be reinstated as an official instructional day(s). Should he need to retrieve additional school days, Reynolds said that spring break or President’s Day, what he classifies as a “minor holiday”, would be probable choices to select from.
Randolph Township School Superintendent, Owen Snyder, has the final say as well. He said the process is very simple for him. He wants to know if the roads are safe for his buses and staff between the hours of 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. “Is it safe to drive around picking up kids,” Snyder said. This is the question he asks his team beginning at 4:15 a.m., and if the answer is yes, schools will be open.
Snyder, who has been school chief for two years, said Randolph is unique in that its located 1,100 feet above sea level and experiences temperatures three to five degrees colder than neighboring communities. He said contacting other school districts to evaluate road conditions doesn’t work because of the difference in weather that Randolph receives.
Randolph has four snow days built into the state required,180-day school calendar and has used three thus far.
Both Reynolds and Snyder agree that the decision is difficult and one which will meet parent opposition either way. Safety is ultimately the deciding factor regardless of complaints or not.
“If we didn’t have school buses, we would have less risk and schools would probably be open much more,” Reynolds said.