While Chicago winters require schools to balance the importance of school attendance with safety, the administration must update its school closure policies to align their decision with real-time conditions, not a forecast alert.
Forecast alerts overstate the impact and magnitude of storm systems due to an industry-accepted practice known as “wet bias” under the rationale that the value to life in overprojecting risks outweighs the inconveniences of public overpreparation. Unfortunately, in their value calculation, meteorological organizations do not consider that school administrations would base closures on advanced alerts and forecasts instead of real-time conditions. However, to be fair, this burden should not fall on meteorologists; we should expect school administrators to differentiate between a public forecast alert and real-time conditions.
To compound matters, the proliferation of remote learning (in)capabilities, stemming from the policies enacted by the state and school boards in 2020, will push more schools to lower their threshold for cancellation. Why worry about draining your scheduled allotment of school closure days when you can supplement them with remote instruction (exempted from non-learning day classification)?
While the consideration for the travel needs and safety of district employees, including bus drivers, is an essential factor in the decision-making process, there is no reason that a decision cannot be made in the early morning hours, as has been accepted past practice. While delaying the decision to cancel school due to weather may inconvenience district employees, the delay lets the administration make a student-centered decision based on real-time conditions.
I recognize the reasons superintendents tend to follow each other at crucial decision points, varying from a shield of singular responsibility to district response uniformity. However, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect our superintendent to display the student-centered leadership we expect for Lake Forest and Lake Bluff rather than quietly follow the status quo.
There will never be a perfect weather-related school closure policy, but it is reasonable to question the status quo and expect to discuss policy in good faith using critical thinking. The weather-related closure policy for our schools could have a significant positive impact on those served- students and families- even if it requires some minor inconveniences for the employees of the community.
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