Snow days and rain delays
Superintendents reveal how they decide to close schools for storms
by Hannington Dia
Reporter Staff Writer
Feb 12, 2017 | 2822 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SCHOOLS
Union City High School
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If this past week is any judge, there’s still plenty of time this winter for snow and slush.

Last week, local school superintendents discussed how they decide to close schools because of the weather.

Secaucus Interim Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops said he keeps in contact with other officials starting early.

“I usually have our director of buildings and grounds give me a call,” he said. “He’s kind of in touch with me throughout the whole process. If the snow starts and something happens the night before in the forecast, and it says it’ll continue, if we can do it we’ll make the call the evening before. Otherwise, I would be in contact with buildings and grounds at about 4:30 to 4:45 a.m. so we can try to make a call by 5 o clock in the morning.”

Sometimes the weather reports change so often that superintendents have to err on the side of caution.

When the National Weather Service predicted a rainy nor’easter for Monday, Jan. 23, three school districts in Hudson County closed, and several others, including Secaucus, remained open but canceled some afternoon activities. It was a rare event. New Jersey schools sometimes close for snowstorms and the occasional hurricane – but for rain?
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“The call to close or stay open is a decision made by each superintendent based on each district's unique circumstances.” -- Dr. Robert Zywicki
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West New York, Union City, and Guttenberg's schools announced late on Sunday that they’d be closed on Monday, but the rain didn’t end up coming until after school would have let out.

“We felt, Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, with 40-mile-an-hour winds, wind gusts of possible 50 to 60 miles, most of our students are walkers—they walk to school,” said Union City Superintendant of Schools Silvia Abbato. “It was a nor’easter, so we decided to close the schools. The weather changed later, and even by the afternoon, the gusts were so heavy, there were some tree branches that went down.”

Part of the roof for the Jose Marti field, which serves the Jose Marti Freshman Academy in Union City, fell off during the storm, Abbato said. She said that parents supported her decision.

Transporting students

Weehawken, which shares a border with Union City, stayed open.

Dr. Robert Zywicki, Weehawken’s superintendent, said they evaluate the situation according to one principle.

“If we stay open, are students going to be safe to travel to and from school?” said Zywicki. “Will there be any unsafe situations once they get to school? Like power outages, things like that.”

Regarding the nor’easter, “I had conversations with the superintendents from North Bergen, Hoboken on Sunday, actually. As we watched the weather, what we started to see was that the rain, the bad part of the rain, was shifting to after school.”

“In coordinating with other districts, we all kind of triangulate the information. What are you seeing from the news sources? What are you hearing from your local government? What are you hearing from the county? And then this way we can make an informed decision to keep our kids safe.”

He noted, “The National Weather Service and NOAH have really, up to the minute weather maps. And they were really precise. The bad rain started around 4 o’ clock, once the kids were home.”

The superintendents interviewed said that none of the parents complained about the decisions.

Ultimately, Zywicki said, “The call to close or stay open is a decision made by each superintendent based on each district's unique circumstances.”

North Bergen’s superintendent, George Solter Jr. said that the towns north of Jersey City and Hoboken – which stayed open -- have topography issues that factor into school closings. North Bergen, for instance, is one of the hilliest cities in the country. But with the rain storm, the district stayed open.

“I just didn't see the need to close because I didn't see rain in the forecast until after school,” said Solter. “I saw some high winds, but I didn't see that the parameters would be for us to close. So that was my decision on why I did that. I had conversations with other superintendents [on Sunday]. They felt the need for their district, it was appropriate to close.”

“Jersey City has some hills,” he began. “I understand that the Heights has some hills, too. But that's one of the things that we have tremendous difficulty with. They don't have the hills we have.”

He noted, “When I make a decision on whether we have school or not, I have conversations with the DPW to see if they can clean the streets.”

He added, “It's not just the students, but it's also the faculty. They come into work, they have to go home from work, and we don't have parking lots for each school, so the faculty have to park on the street. So now, if there's a major snowstorm, not a lot of places have space for the faculty to park.”

Offices for the school superintendents in West New York and Guttenberg did not return multiple phone calls.

Hannington Dia can be reached at hd@hudsonreporter.com

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