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Delays, Closings Are Tough Decisions For Westchester School Superintendents

Lakeland schools have used five of six allocated snow days, whereas Irvington schools have used just one. Photo Credit: Flickr
Kids may revel in getting snow days, but school districts toil before deciding to delay or close due to weather. Photo Credit: Danny LoPriore

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Snow days have been frequent this winter, and school superintendents say a lot of time and effort goes into determining whether or not to delay or close for the day.

Lakeland Central School District students got to sleep an extra few hours Monday thanks to a two-hour delay. While most school districts opened on time, Superintendent George Stone said Lakeland is unique because it has a diverse terrain spanning more than 40 miles.

While the temperature was in the 50s and roads were clear in Yorktown early Monday morning, about 1,000 students in the Continental Village area of Cortlandt woke to 30-degree temperatures and icy roads, Stone said.

"If it's just one or two roads and it was only affecting a handful of kids that obviously wouldn't have changed a decision to go on time," Stone said. "But, when you have that many being affected, you just have to make a call for the entire district.

"A lot of our buses go across different routes. So we have to do what's best in the interest of safety. We'd rather err on the side of safety and being conservative rather than taking a chance."

Lakeland schools have already used five of its six snow days. Other schools like Irvington have only used one.

"We will delay openings to ensure that we can transport our students safely," Irvington School Superintendent Kristopher Harrison said. "Those delays help save the snow days. We also coordinate with (Hastings, Dobbs Ferry and Tarrytown) districts and are usually in agreement because conditions are comparable."

Similarly, Stone said he consults with a network of Putnam and Northern Westchester superintendents early in the morning when there is inclement weather. Lakeland, Yorktown and Hendrick Hudson schools usually make the same decision, Stone said.

"Sometimes it's good if you all can do the same thing, which is the ideal," he said. "But condltions can vary from district to district and a lot of times we have to make our own decisions, as you have seen in the last few days."

Whenever there is bad weather in the forecast, even rain or strong winds, Stone said his district starts the process, which includes monitoring forecasts, and consulting local officials, police and road maintenance crews about potentially hazardous conditions.

Dr. Joseph Ricca, Elmsford school superintendent, said his district also consults with many stakeholders, but the final decision is always based on student safety.

School buses start rolling at 5 a.m., which Stone said leaves enough time for road crews to get to affected areas before school starts at 8 a.m.

"In the last week we've been in contact with the town supervisors making sure we have more contacts and ways to communicate about the roads so that in the future we can hopefully do even better than we're doing now," he said.

Danny LoPriore contributed to this report.

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