Dear ARPS Community:
Given the high level of interest in how weather-related delay and cancellation decisions are made, I thought it would be helpful to share the process that we use.
First, I would like to acknowledge the large impact that a change in schedule imposes on families. I fully understand how a snow day, delay, or early release schedule has many unintended consequences on family and working life for those in the ARPS community.
Our transportation system involves a network of four separate bus companies who transport students aged 3-21 in three counties, eight separate school districts, in a wide range of towns where the weather and road conditions are very different.
We have a complex system of drivers/bus companies that, surprisingly, optimizes our finances and operations. Some of our buses and vans are owned by the district and are driven by ARPS employees. We also utilize the Five-Star Bus Company for routes in Amherst and Pelham. Our Regional routes in Shutesbury and Leverett are covered by the Kuzmeskus Bus Company; they also manage the routes for the Shutesbury and Leverett Elementary Schools, which are autonomous districts with their own separate School Committees and a shared Superintendent, Jennifer Haggerty (who also manages the elementary schools for the towns of New Salem, Wendell, and Erving). Finally, we utilize the Vanpool company to transport students with specialized transportation needs and we also provide transportation support for students attending multiple vocational schools across three counties in the area, which each have their own Board of Trustees and Superintendents.
A frequent response on either a day when a weather related delay/cancellation has occurred (or has not occurred) isthat a different call should have been made based on the weather in a specific location. I want to acknowledge these responses as fully appropriate and reasonable.
For instance, on the snow day on March 8, all locations and roads in the Town of Amherst were cleared in time for a two-hour delay to be appropriate. However, the road conditions in several other towns were not safe for travel as per their Highway Departments. Likewise, community members from towns with higher elevations and more dirt roads have expressed concerns about the road conditions near them on days when we have not canceled or delayed the opening of school.
The reality is that on any given day, winter weather varies widely between the four towns of the Region. The range in snowfall amounts from the highest elevations in Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury are often quite different from those in lower elevations in Amherst. We try to do our best to balance the different weather and road conditions across the four towns of the Region when making these decisions. We do our best to make the best decision for all of our students with the information we have at about 5:00 AM, which usually (but not always) predicts what the conditions will be several hours later.
Our Transportation Coordinator, local DPW/Highway Departments, Shutesbury/Leverett Superintendent Haggerty, and myself are in contact about weather forecasts the day before any winter weather event. If there is high certainty on the forecast, we have attempted to inform the community of delays/cancellations the night prior if at all possible. When it is not possible, this same group begins communicating at 4:45 in the morning about current conditions. If we cannot receive assurances about the safety of bus travel to all four towns in our Region by the time buses are scheduled to depart to pick up our secondary school students, we assess whether a delay or cancellation is warranted. If the reports we receive indicate that the roads will not support safe transportation by 8:30 AM (when our Regional buses depart on days when we have two-hour delays), we cancel school. Student and bus safety is the primary factor in the decision-making process.
All decisions are made by 5:30 AM, because we know such decisions impact families in significant ways and some of our employees need to leave at that time to get to work. We update our automated phone line with delay/cancellation information (362-1898), contact local media outlets (22News and Western Mass News), and update the ARPS website (www.arps.org) with this information.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about weather-related transportation concerns. We appreciate your patience and understanding of the process that is required when making weather-related decisions in a geographically diverse and expansive region and with a complex network of transportation providers.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend,
Dr. Michael Morris
Superintendent of Schools
Amherst, Pelham, and the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Districts