Darien superintendent explains protocols for declaring snow days

A closed road during a recent snow storm in Darien.

In the wake of a flurry of school cancellations due to snow, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner took some time at the March 14 Board of Education meeting to explain publicly just what the protocols are for cancelling school. Some of the cancellations were validated by snowfall, while others had been called premature as snow accumulation did not meet forecasted numbers. To date, Darien has had five snow days, and currently the last day of school for students is Thursday, June 21.
“It’s very easy to second guess these decisions, especially when we see black pavement at 1 p.m. on a day a snowday was called,” Brenner opened.
He explained that he gets up at four in the morning on the day in question, and gets on a conference call with the other superintendents in the area as well as a meteorologist. The meteorologist will go town by town and explain forecasted snow impact, and more importantly, the time of that impact. The meteorologist, Brenner has said, also explains that March storms are typically unpredictable when it comes to volume of snow and time of impact.
“We sit and are very often faced with very difficult decisions. The most difficult decisions are ones that impact arrival and dismissal times,” Brenner said.
Buses in town operate for about a two hour window, from around 6:45 to 9:00 am, and then again in the afternoon. There is also the possibility of a delay. “We do that with the idea that the storm may subside and we get a window afterwards,” Brenner said. Brenner also explained that there is a culpability and a risk involved when making the decision.
“Superintendents rarely will go out on their own because there is culpability for the district,” Brenner said, explaining why closing typically happen for most of the DRG at once, and individual schools rarely stay open. Should an incident occur, “You stay open, and something happens, I have no way to defend the decision,” Brenner said, meaning that the decision would have ignored the advice of not only the other superintendents, but the meteorologist as well.
The most recent closing was met with criticism, and the storm was projected to move heavy bands of snow across the region at times that would seriously impact buses, with the potential for a small break that might allow for getting students to and from school.
According to Brenner, the meteorologist told the superintendents, “if you think you can thread the needle, bring them in.”
Brenner and the other superintendents opted against threading the needle.
“It’s a difficult decision. I frequently say to the folks who want to share their opinion about how bad the decision is that I’d be happy to give them a call at 4 a.m. and ask them to weigh in,” Brenner joked.
“You do your best, you make a choice you do the due diligence, and you let the chips fall where they may,” he added. Typically, early in the school year and in the winter it is more likely that snow results in a cancellation.
“You get two inches in beginning of the year, we have a snowday. Then you get 8 inches in March and people are saying ‘how do we get them in’,” Brenner said, while explaining that he tries not to make decisions that way.
Brenner also added that some teachers travel a long way to get to DHS, which has to be part of the decision. While the safety of students is paramount, the safe travel for teachers is also very important. “If the snow is going to be enormous to the north and I know I’ll be without 50% of the teachers, you have to take that into account,” Brenner said.
Another storm is looming, and another snow day is possible. Already pushed to June 21, Board of Education member Christa McNamara asked a question that is no doubt on the minds of many parents: if we lose more days, what happens to spring break?
“Everyone should enjoy their spring break,” was Brenner’s response with a smile. Even if another snow day occurs, the last day for students would be pushed to Friday, June 22.
Another winter storm is predicted to begin early morning Wednesday, March 21.