SOUTHINGTON — Like most school superintendents, Steven Madancy shares weather-related information directly with parents through technology platforms like ParentSquare, with one notable addition — a detailed description of his decision-making even when no action is taken.
Southington schools called an emergency early dismissal Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of inclement weather, cutting the school day three hours short. The move was announced early in the morning by Madancy, following rising concerns from the forecast the day prior.
Southington schools joined Meriden, Wallingford, Plainville, Cheshire, and Bristol districts as they collectively announced the decision for early dismissal, following a call between the district superintendents Tuesday night.
The decision was partially made due to what officials believed would be safety concerns for the elementary-aged students after school, specifically around their after-school commute.
While Madancy remained confident that the day for middle and high school students could continue without interruption, there would be too many complications around bus scheduling and routes to make it viable only to call off the elementary schools, he said Wednesday.
“The rationale behind my ultimate decision was the uncertainty around the elementary school commute. Because if there's a storm, like if it's starting to accumulate or stick, it's going to be sometime between three and five, which is when our elementary kids are on their bus runs. And so, unfortunately, we can't dismiss just elementary school early without the others because the bus routes are all related,” Madancy said.
As of early Wednesday afternoon the local area had only seen isolated light snow showers, well below expected projections.
It was still the right decision to cut the school day short, said meteorologist Gary Lessor, because when the initial data came in there was a considerable expectation of a stronger storm hitting the area earlier in the afternoon before school would be out.
“It was definitely the right decision,” Lessor said. “When the decision was made … indications were we'd have a couple of inches of snow. But the atmosphere is just absorbing everything that's falling. We were counting on this to be accumulating at that point.”
The major contributing factor towards the lack of rain or snow was the dry atmosphere, said Lessor, which absorbed much of the precipitation that was meant to fall much earlier in the day. However, it was still predicated to storm much later into the evening, with estimates of up to an inch of snow and rain with 35-40 mile-per-hour gusts of wind.
The storm is anticipated to arrive overnight and dissipate early Thursday morning around 5 a.m. Open communication
Madancy wanted to err on the side of caution alongside the other district superintendents, leading to the early release. In the interest of maintaining open communication with the parents of the district — something that Madancy has said is an important part of what he seeks to foster in the district — he sent out several notices ahead of the decision, informing them of what the decision would mean for the children and how it would impact scheduling.
The approach was similar to previous communication.
Last month, Madancy offered a precautionary description of what a cancellation would entail versus an anticipated delay.
“In tomorrow’s instance,” he wrote on Dec. 22, “the reason we would be canceling instead of delaying is due to the already scheduled shortened day. State law requires at least 3 ½ hours of school in session for the day to count and a combination of delay and dismissal would not meet the minimum.
As for the drop in temperatures in the afternoon, the early dismissal will have all our buses off the roads by 2:00 p.m. which is ahead of the forecasted temperature drop thus avoiding any flash freeze potential for staff, buses, and families.
In closing, please remember that while the district makes decisions around operations and school schedules, the ultimate decision of whether to allow your children to drive, or if it is safe to attend, is always a decision left to each family based on conditions on your particular roadways and neighborhoods as circumstances can vary across town.
Let’s hope this simply turns into a windy rain event with the day proceeding as planned with an early dismissal.”
Earlier this week, Madancy shared why he broke with surrounding districts by not dismissing schools early.
“As you may have seen, some surrounding towns have called for an early dismissal,” he wrote. “After gathering information from town officials and discussing with operations, I have decided to stay with a normally scheduled school day. The current road temperatures, forecasted afternoon temperatures, coupled with the fact that our high school already has an early dismissal due to exams, (taking our least experienced drivers off the roads) provide the rationale for my decision.”
Two more messages this week first prepared parents for an early dismissal before ultimately explaining why that action was taken, due to the storm’s potential impact on elementary school dismissale.
“That was really just the crux of it. Because I think if it weren't for the elementary [schools], I would have been more than OK staying all day,” Madancy told the Record-Journal Wednesday.
The school schedule is expected to resume as normal for the remainder of the week.