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Making the call for a snow day

TURNERS FALLS — Winter is definitively here and with it the morning suspense on snowy days as children wait with fingers crossed to hear they won’t have classes and parents wait to learn whether they will have to make child care arrangements or brave semi-plowed streets.

Someone will be disappointed either way, and that disappointment falls to the school cancellation decision-makers.

The decision to call off or delay a school day is the responsibility of the school superintendents, and some have it harder than others.

Franklin County Technical School is the broadest of the public school districts, its 19 member towns ranging from the relatively flat population centers like Montague to the hill towns, and with students coming from seven other nonmember towns and Vermont as well.

When former Tech School superintendent Richard Lane retired in 2012, the 4 or 5 a.m. wake-up call reporting snow in Heath, and the ensuing phone tree, was the first thing he said he wouldn’t miss.

For two years now, that responsibility has belonged to James Laverty.

Most students in Franklin County have had a number of snow days already this winter.

The season started early this year with storms in November.

On Nov. 27, there was about 4 inches of snow on the ground in Heath, and a bus became stuck in Colrain, but Laverty ultimately decided not to cancel or delay school.

Laverty said he watches the weather reports the day before possible inclement weather, wakes up to the report from Heath around 4 a.m., then has a decision to make by 5 a.m.

Highway superintendents and other school superintendents are part of the conversation.

“Misery loves company; the superintendents usually start calling each other around 4 a.m.,” Laverty said.

The Shelburne barracks of the Massachusetts State Police are also on Laverty’s list for their impression after a night of patrolling the county.

“It’s something that we look at very carefully because the safety of the kids is paramount,” Laverty said.

The problem is that a degree or two one way or another can make the difference between snow and rain, and it is not uncommon for students and parents in Heath, Shelburne and the other hill towns to wake up to snow while the population centers of Greenfield and Montague see nothing but rain at their lower elevation.

Fifty percent of the school’s students live in Greenfield, Montague and Orange, Laverty said, so it may make the most sense to keep the school day and chalk up the handful of students trapped at home by snow or ice as excused absences.

Because he might not be able to justify canceling a day of class for the benefit of the two students from Heath, Laverty said any day on which the parents are not comfortable driving or sending their student to school because of the weather is an excused absence.

“The issue is that no matter what we do we might have a parent who’ll call and say ‘Does that superintendent know what he’s doing? Does he know what the roads are like here?’” Laverty said.

This is not a situation he expects to change in the new year.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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