By Jordan Kiel
Bellingham Public Schools canceled four days of school last week due to almost 7 inches of snow. Becky Kelly, parent of a third-grader at Sunnyland Elementary, said missed days can affect child care. Dave Marcotte, a professor of Public Administration and Policy at American University, said unscheduled cancellations may negatively impact learning.
Marcotte has researched achievement in K-12 education and said unscheduled cancellations reduce achievement, especially in math. He said younger students are more affected.
“The effects of losing one or two days are small, for sure. But they can accumulate,” Marcotte said. He said losing 10 days of school reduces test scores by about the same amount as increasing class size by nine students.
When canceling school due to weather, Greg Baker, superintendent of Bellingham Public Schools, said he tries to give families as much time as possible to plan. In an email to families sent on Jan. 14, Baker explained his reasoning behind closing schools on Wednesday, Jan. 15.
“The conventional wisdom is to wait for tomorrow morning before deciding in order to have as much information as possible,” Baker said in an email. “The unconventional wisdom is to consider what we currently know: it’s snowing across the city. It’s expected to snow all night.”
Kelly said she prefers when Baker cancels school the afternoon beforehand. When school is canceled, Kelly has to find child care for her son Oliver and often goes to work late.
“I’m a planner,” Kelly said. “So to be able to know the night before is great.”
Kelly said on some snow days the after-school art program her son normally attends, Gabriel’s Art Kids, opens during the school day to provide childcare. She said when school is canceled the night before, it gives the business time to figure out if they have enough staff and students to open during the day.
Kelly said she has no issue when schools stay open in the snow because she only lives a few blocks from Sunnyland Elementary.
Alternate bus routes run on main roads instead of neighborhoods for students who don’t live within walking distance of their school. Families are responsible for knowing their snow route and getting their students to the alternate stops.
“It is each family’s decision to do what is best for them and their children; it’s our job to evaluate whether our buses can safely run on our snow routes and to our schools,” Dana Smith, communication manager for the school district, said in an email.
According to Bellingham Public Schools’ website, district staff drive main roads starting around 3 a.m. to determine whether it is safe to keep schools open. Smith said the morning drivers are usually staff in supervisory positions who are trusted to determine if road conditions are safe.
Kelly said she thinks the school district usually makes the right call when they decide to cancel classes.
While families and teachers have the day off, year-round district employees still work during snow days. This includes, but is not limited to, district office staff, custodians, principles and administrative assistants, Smith said.
Smith said there aren’t many measurable costs to the school district from a snow day. If the district didn’t make up a snow day, they would lose food service revenue, about $17,000.
“Intangibly, though, there is certainly a shift of district resources toward managing the weather situation, which brings with it a human cost,” Smith said via email. “From folks out driving the roads at night or early in the morning, to the increase in phone calls and emails, to helping our families connect with resources.”
Smith said the district will work with labor groups and the state for plans concerning makeup days, if needed.
Smith wrote, “Generally speaking, there will be no effects on teacher or any other labor group pay, because any ‘lost’ work days will be recouped on make-up days when they are scheduled.”