New Canaan schools give up a day off thanks to snow
Even with six snow days on the books, the last day of public school is currently scheduled for June 22, rather than June 23.
But don't get too excited, kids; you'll still have to bring in those books on another day.
The Board of Education decided to make Feb. 18, previously scheduled as professional development day and a day off for students, an official school day.
With snow days running out, the Board had to get creative in terms of creating a cushion and without cutting into April vacation. Hoping to take advantage of the fact that the faculty would already be prepared to attend school on Feb. 18, the Board agreed to make it a school day.
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"It makes sense in a world of imperfect choices," Superintendent David Abbey said at Monday night's Board of Education meeting.
At the meeting, the board discussed a plan of action to deal with possible additional school closings due to snow. By attending Feb. 18, the schools have two built-in snow days left.
"We cannot, by state law, go past June 30," Abbey said.
Still, New Canaan has certain options that other school districts do not have. State law requires all students to go to school a total of 180 days. New Canaan, as a matter of practice, has students attend school for 182 days, meaning the Board could reduce the number of days from 182 to 180 if necessary. The options after that become thin and unpopular.
"I think there is a general consensus that going beyond the third week of June is a bad decision," Board Chairman Nick Williams said.
There was also some agreement among board members that cutting into the April break is not a good idea but may have to be considered before going into the final week of June. For students to start losing some of their April break, starting with Monday the 18th, there would need to be at least five more snow days for the rest of the year. Students will have to put their fate in the hands of prevailing good weather and their superintendent in hopes that the rest of year goes according to plan.
Thus far, the decision to close schools has fallen squarely on the shoulders of David Abbey, something he does not take lightly.
"Safety is always paramount," Abbey said. "I have to consider children with disabilities, students with ambulatory issues among other things."
In his eight years as superintendent, Abbey has yet to see a winter like this one.
"It is by far the most complex and difficult year we have ever had," he said.
While he might look like a mild-mannered school administrator, Abbey's responsibilities go beyond dealing with education and students.
"This man wakes up at around 4 a.m. to make these decisions," Williams said. "It is really amazing what he has to do."
When Abbey wakes up before the crack of dawn, he has a number of things to consider. He first researches multiple weather outlets such as Accuweather and other broadcasts on television and radio. He also consults the town emergency management system as well as Mose Saccary, the superintendent of operations for the Highway Department. Saccary tells him when the roads were treated and the nature of the driving conditions in town. He must also consider the commute for faculty members, many of whom do not live in New Canaan.
Abbey explained that the most complicated aspect has to do with the buses. New Canaan has a three-tier bus system that accommodates for the different school openings. New Canaan High School opens well before the elementary schools so a delayed opening may not always be the right decision. Throw in the fact that a neighboring town may possibly be getting no snow while New Canaan is getting hammered, and the complexity of it all could be overwhelming enough to make anyone's head spin.
"The Merritt is the dividing line in terms of climate and topography," Abbey said, sounding much more like a meteorologist than a superintendent, "meaning it could be snowing very hard here in New Canaan, but Westport or Darien may just be getting flurries."
Still, if any of the decision making ever gets to Dr. Abbey, he shows no sign of pain or frustration.
"You do the best you can," he said. "This is actually an opportunity to work together with parents and the community to show our students how you problem solve."
Pay attention kids, it's not easy being in charge.