Anatomy of a snow day: How the call to cancel school is made

Above: A school bus navigating snowy roads earlier today

Superintendent Charles Gobron has been waking up early a lot lately. It’s not insomnia. It’s not the stress of budget season. He’s been waking up early to make a phone call. You all know the phone call I’m talking about: the snow day phone call.

The logistics of canceling or delaying school on a snow day aren’t so difficult: a call to the TV stations and bus companies, an email to parents, and then a message that goes out to the 16,173 phone numbers in the district’s automated call system. Gobron says what’s difficult about a snow day is making the decision in the first place. In fact, he says its one of the most stressful parts of his job.

“Unless it’s a clear, clear call, there’s always criticism,” Gobron said. “Either way people get upset.”

Gobron says he understands, “Closings and delays are hard for working parents.”

On mornings with a questionable forecast, Gobron is up at 4:30 am to check his email and call the DPW heads in both Southborough and Northborough. Then he checks in with the nine superintendents that are part of the Assabet Collaborative, which includes neighboring towns like Westborough and Marlborough.

“We ask each other, ‘How are you feeling?'” Gobron said.

The decision is often a collective one between the area superintendents, with the advice of public safety officials weighing heavily. “If safety officials feel strongly we shouldn’t have school, we generally cancel,” Gobron said.

Gobron has to make a decision on whether to cancel or delay school by 5:00 am in time to alert the bus companies, parents, and students. In the end it’s a judgement call.

“We err on the side of safety … but at the same time, we don’t want to close school at the drop of a hat,” he said. “If we make a decision and you don’t think it’s the right one, you can keep your kids home.”

So far this winter, Gobron has made the call to close school three times, and once (today) to close early. From the look of the forecast, he’ll be up early tomorrow morning to make the call once again.

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Yiwei Sun
12 years ago

Thank you for this well written and informative article. Lots of hardwork goes into our 6am call. I work full time so these early calls allow me to make my plans for the day. Thank you Susan!

Living a dream
12 years ago

I think Dr. Gobron does a great job at calling when he needs to. Imagine if he didn’t and something happened. It is a judgement call and anyone who criticizes has no idea how hard that must be. It can be hard on the parents but I am sure we would all rather have our kids home and safe and be inconvenienced than the alternative. You are never going to make everybody happy so Dr. Gobron just needs to do the best he can. We should appreciate that he puts our kids first and foremost. Thank you Dr. Gobron.

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