Every school district is different when it comes to calling delays and cancellations. The superintendents have to consider many different factors when making the decision. For Shaler Area, some of these factors include the weather, the transportation companies, and road conditions.
Superintendent Mr. Sean Aiken is in his second year on the job, and therefore still new to the Shaler decision making process.
“It’s one of the most challenging decisions that we make as superintendents because half of the people are going to think that you should call a delay or a cancellation, and the other half of the people are going to think that you shouldn’t call it,” Aiken said.
The superintendents of Fox Chapel, Hampton, North Hills, North Allegheny, Pine Richland, Avonworth, Northgate, and Shaler, or the schools in the northern region of Pittsburgh, communicate with each other when considering a delay or cancellation.
Unfortunately, there is no set temperature that will automatically result in a delay. A safe number to assume is -10°, but Aiken also has to consider wind-chill and road condition. Aiken consults a weather condition chart, made by the National Weather Center. In some situations, when the weather would be the same two hours later, a delay is useless because students will still be in the same situation. If the weather is predicted to get worse later in the morning, with snow or ice accumulation, and if a delay would not help the safety situation, a cancellation would be called. However, Aiken tries to avoid cancellations because it takes away time in the classroom.
“It’s important for us to protect instructional time. I think it sends a message that we value school, when we protect the time,” Aiken said.
This year in particular, Aiken has built in two days in the schedule that the school could use to make up for cancellations so they don’t have to go further into June. But due to the mild winter, Shaler Area has not had any cancellations so far.
Another thing that the superintendent has to take into account is whether or not the transportation companies are available. they have to make sure all of the buses are running correctly. The cold weather affects the buses in the same way it would affect a car. Also, the most important aspect is that bus drivers have to get to the buses from their homes, and if they cannot get there because of the weather and/or road conditions, a delay or cancellation will most likely be called.
Aiken has to look at the roads of Shaler, Etna, Millvale, and Reserve early in the morning to check and see if they are driveable. With high schoolers driving, it becomes even more important to know the condition of the roads as early as possible. Shaler, Etna, and Millvale all have multiple salt trucks and communicate very well, but the situation is different in Reserve. Reserve doesn’t have as many trucks as Shaler, Etna, and Millvale, therefore the salting process takes longer. There are workers still out salting the roads by at the time some students in Reserve are leaving for school. This makes the delay decision difficult because the students are already coming to school before the final decision has been made. Aiken tries to have a final decision before 6 in the morning.
On a normal day, Aiken starts his day the same way as anybody would; wake up, get ready, eat some breakfast, and go to work. But on days where he has to decide to call a two hour delay, his morning starts as early as 3 a.m. At this point, Aiken would be dealing with parents and students contacting him and discussing whether or not he should consider delaying school with the other superintendents in the northern Pittsburgh area. They work together and relay any messages regarding the situation.
The most important thing to Aiken is student safety. Whether he calls a delay or not, there are always different opinions.
“If we don’t call a delay and there’s an accident on the road, people are always going to remember that. But if you call a two hour delay and people are angry that you called a two hour delay they’ll forget about that within 24 hours,” Aiken said, “You’re never going to make everybody happy, but we just want to make the best decision and make sure the students are safe.”