For public schools, early dismissal days count as full school days, but superintendents say that’s not the reason they chose early dismissal over canceling the entire day Thursday as a major snowstorm battered the region.
With just a sprinkling of snow early Thursday, early dismissal was a route taken by many districts.
Districts are required to have 180 days of instruction each academic year to receive their full allotment of state aid, according to the state Education Department. Early dismissals and late openings count as full school days, as long as students are in the classroom during the shortened day.
Patrick McGrath, superintendent of Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake Central School District, said he kept schools open in the morning because of the potential for a snow day today and the upcoming winter vacation next week.
“We have to be careful with our snow days,” McGrath said. “We watched the weather carefully and determined with the Department of Transportation that if we had a half-day of classes, it would be safe, with a couple of inches of snow on the roads in the morning.”
The district’s elementary school closed Thursday at noon and the middle school and high school closed at 11 a.m. with no after-school activities. Burnt Hills–Ballston Lake has used only one snow day this year.
There are many factors aside from snow accumulation that districts consider when canceling school, including road conditions, temperatures and windchill. Laurence Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, said schools in his district provide free breakfast and lunch for students, a factor weighed when considering early dismissals.
“You want to keep routines in place for families and have kids in school as much as possible,” he said. “There are things they get out of school beyond learning, like free meals. We provided lunch at the high school Thursday, but the secondary schools were dismissed a little bit earlier.”
Schenectady High School and Mont Pleasant Middle School closed at noon, with other schools in the district dismissed around 11 a.m., Spring said.
Another issue Spring considers during a winter storm is the city’s ability to clear sidewalks and plow streets. He said students should not have to walk in dangerous conditions.
“For Friday, it is mostly about the city getting things cleaned up,” Spring said. “Once the snow stops, the cleanup of the streets can happen much faster. We have to consider that with the kids getting to and from school.”
The Niskayuna Central School District didn’t announce its early dismissals until Thursday. Superintendent Susan Salvaggio said she knows it would have been more convenient for parents to know the night before.
“I didn’t make the decision [Wednesday] night because I didn’t feel confident we would have a significant amount of snow in the morning,” she said. “Making the decision before the snow arrives is always difficult because it may never arrive.”
Niskayuna’s middle and high schools closed at 10:45 a.m., and the elementary school was closed at 11:50 a.m., with all after-school programs canceled.
“My view is, the safety of the kids is the most important factor,” she said. “But kids need to come to school. We are here to educate them. Any day that we can … have school, I believe that we should.”
The district has used three of its snow days for the academic year, with two remaining. Salvaggio said she would plan closings carefully if severe weather continues to slam the region.
Other districts that had early closings Thursday included Amsterdam, Ballston Spa, East Greenbush, Fonda–Fultonville, Galway, Mechanicville, Mohonasen, Northville, Saratoga Springs, Schalmont, Schuylerville, Scotia–Glenville, Shenendehowa and Stillwater.