Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

School closings for weather can be tricky business, and this week put those decisions in the spotlight once again.

This is a passionate issue for many because it affects work routines and causes heartburn for many for kid coverage on the home front, particularly if both parents hold full-time jobs. Additionally, with Worcester and Wicomico counties now exceeding their budgeted closure days, schools will now be open deeper into June, and nobody is a fan of that.

Although hindsight works in obvious fashion and armchair quarterbacking is always predictable, there really is no other conclusion than it was premature to close local schools for the day on Tuesday. A weather forecast full of doom and gloom is simply not enough to base the decision on. Schools should have been open on Tuesday as there was major uncertainty as to when exactly the area would start to get the storm’s effects. The answer turned out to be around 4:30 p.m. in Berlin. Roads were fine till about 7 p.m. The better call would have been to have school and cancel after-school activities.

For Worcester County Public Schools, the decision to close on Tuesday was announced around 6 a.m., about eight hours before the rain started and 10 hours before the first snow flake fell in Berlin. Worcester was not alone though as neighboring Wicomico also shuttered in premature fashion. Yes it’s better to be safe than sorry, but objective minds agree Tuesday was a blown call.

Wednesday’s closure was an obvious decision once the storm actually began. The call came about 8 p.m. in Worcester. The roads were a mess for most of Wednesday, resulting in schools being closed on Thursday as well. That was a solid decision as well, as road conditions were poor prior to sundown on Wednesday and only got worse as the night went on. For Wicomico, the Thursday decision came around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. One hour later, Worcester made the same call. Schools were expected to be closed on Friday as well since it was a planned half day and students are off Monday.

Worcester County Supervisor of Maintenance and Operations and Pupil Transportation Steve Price knows he is on the hot seat with these decisions, but he seems to be okay with that. He specifically addressed Tuesday’s pre-storm decision at the Board of Education meeting on the same day and reiterated safety is paramount when weighing the decisions.

“It’s a long, involved process,” he said. “As for today [Tuesday], the big concern is we would get everybody in school and start the day, then turn around a couple hours later and send everyone back home.”

Superintendent Jerry Wilson added, “If the storm doesn’t materialize as expected, we often take some criticism. As far as Tuesday goes, the thing to remember is we’ll have buses with kids still out there at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. It’s not always the regular school hours that lead to a decision.”

It was interesting to hear this week that the state task force convened to study whether to mandate all school systems in Maryland start after Labor Day will soon issue a recommendation to the governor.

Officials said last week the task force will be advising the state change to a post-Labor Day school start, despite the objections of nearly every school system superintendent in the state.

While I support this change for a variety of reasons, most of which are tradition based and economically driven, I got to thinking about it this week after receiving all those calls informing schools would be closed due to the weather.

Some critics of this week’s school closings took to social media to air their worries over school being closed and the fact the school year will be extended later into June as a result. That will undoubtedly have to happen now, but it’s worth remembering that’s going to be inevitable if schools have to start after Labor Day anyway. There are so many days that can be cut during the school year.