Close a few or close them all? Let's talk about snow days.

Benzing Road in Antioch, outside Brookview Estates Closing schools is never an easy decision to make. It comes only after extensive thought and consideration of all factors involved. But ultimately, only one factor truly matters: student safety.

Supervisors in the Transportation Department – dubbed “The Snow Patrol” – drive hundreds of roads in Nashville assessing the conditions. They drive roads where school buses travel and take pictures along the way. Those pictures are shared with the director of transportation and the chief operating officer. They listen to the reports of which roads might be hazardous and make a recommendation of whether or not schools should close.

This is a tried and true system that has served the district for many years, but recently there has been a growing call to revisit how we make the decision.

Last week, Nashville saw a familiar scenario. Much of the urban core had clear and dry streets while the more rural areas of the county were still covered in snow and ice. School buses could safely travel down Eighth Avenue, but Brick Church Pike was far too dangerous. It prompted the question, why can’t we close just a few schools at a time and let the majority of students go to school?

It’s a difficult question to answer because no matter which way it goes many families will be negatively affected. But it is a question we are looking at. What can we do differently to open as many schools as possible and not cost students valuable instructional days?

On the road to that answer, there are many more questions to ask:

  • What happens to a student who lives in Goodlettsville but attends Meigs Middle in East Nashville? Are parents expected to drive on ice-covered roads to get her to school? If not, is her absence excused? Will there be make-up work?
  • What should families do if their children attend multiple schools in different areas of town, say AZ Kelley Elementary, JT Moore Middle and Hillsboro High? If AZ Kelley is closed and Moore and Hillsboro are not, what does the parent do? Would make-up days put their children on different school calendars?
  • What is the best way to effectively communicate a complex message about selective school closings? How is that complicated if the decision is made at 4:00 a.m.? How do we ensure we effectively give complex instructions on school closings to the Metro families who speak 140 different languages?
  • What if a teacher lives in Joelton but teaches in Bellevue? Is he expected to come to work when schools in his neighborhood are closed? If he can’t make it in, is that excused? Can the school get a substitute teacher in time? What does that mean for his students?

These are a few of the many considerations that would have to go into any decision to close schools selectively based on weather. There may be answers out there we have not found yet, but we will look for them and ask for input from families and city leaders.

While it is too late to make such a major change in our procedures this year, the conversation is already underway. If you have thoughts on this, please leave them in the comments.