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Blog: Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Six Myths About Calling Snow Days

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

In light of the exciting week we have had, it is appropriate that my blog post this week be about snow days. We’ve received some “interesting” comments on our social media feeds, so I feel compelled to dispel a few of the myths about the decision-making process that superintendents go through when deciding whether or not to open schools. When I visit schools and students ask me what a superintendent does, I wax eloquently about my executive duties, my work with the Board of Education, setting the school district's direction, allocating resources to schools, hiring and placing principals, and ensuring student progress. Invariably one courageous student will ask if I am the person who determines snow days, and when I respond in the affirmative, they realize just how important I am in their lives.

Here is a list of myths that have materialized in the last few years and my best attempt to dispel them:
 
1. Myth #1: I decide via coin toss. 
I do not flip a coin to decide whether to close schools. Believe it or not, our crews are out on the roads long before any decision is made - often working throughout the night and into the early morning hours. During winter storms, they put in long hours ploughing school parking lots and walkways, coordinating with the City crews and our Transportation Department to give me an honest appraisal about road and school conditions. It is serendipitous that it is Valentine’s day this week, so our Facilities Department will get a special Valentine from me for their dedication and hard work.
 
2. Myth #2: I love angry calls to my office.
Contrary to popular opinion, we do not love the raft of calls that come into the School Board Office each time we make the call. You might be surprised to know that regardless of the decision we get about the same number of calls challenging it. If schools stay open, the calls generally sound something like this: “I cannot believe you guys would risk my kid’s safety. If my kid gets injured…(fill in the blank).” If we decide to close schools, then we get the opposite: “I am a tax-payer, and I have to be at work. Which of you guys will be paying for my daycare today?” One of my most memorable complaints was when a grandparent drove to the School Board Office, from across town, to personally complain about the terrible road conditions. Not sure if you see the irony in that.
 
3. Myth #3: I don’t like kids.  
The best message of the week came from a student: “whyd u open tha schools bro i just wanted to have fun in the snow ripppp.” Even though as a former English teacher I was tempted to correct this student's grammar and jokingly refute that he/she could do with some extra time in English class, there is no truth to the idea that we want to make kids’ lives miserable. The opposite is true. I care enough to give parents a choice. Parents decide whether or not they would like to send their kids to school to improve their grammar or take them to the ski hill to improve their parallel turns.
 
4. Myth #4: We compete with other school districts. 
While it is true that our schools compete with other districts in the region in a variety of sports, there is no truth to the assertion that we are competing with Surrey, Langley, Mission, and Chilliwack to see which district is the hardest to call a snow day. I am slightly envious of Superintendent Chris Kennedy and his Cal Ripkin-like streak for not calling a snow day in West Vancouver for over 2000 days, but I have never considered wagering him to see which of us can keep our schools open after a dump of snow. If there was a league for this, I think the school districts in the northern and interior regions would put even West Vancouver to shame every year. Just saying... ?
 
5. Myth #5: Living in the North has hardened my heart. 
Some of you will know that I spent the first 10 years of my career in Dawson Creek where we never had snow days. Occasionally the buses would not run when the temperature fell below -40 degrees, but schools were always open. And while there is truth to the fact that former colleagues from that district occasionally call me and ridicule us “Lower Mainland types” for being wimps at the slightest snowfall, it has no bearing on my decision making. Take it from a guy who was born in a tropical country - snow should stay on the mountains.
 
6. Myth #6: My family influences my decision. 
My son is out of the school district now, but I have vivid memories from when he was at WJ Mouat and we were analyzing school situations after a big snowfall. He would come running up the stairs each time I received my 5:00am phone call, pleading on his knees for me to call a snow day. He would remind me of the tremendous pressure he was under from his friends at school, who would be disappointed that he did not influence his dad’s decision making. He knows the truth: I was more afraid of his mother.
 
In all seriousness, we know that snow days can be difficult for some families, including parents who miss days of work to care for their children. There are many factors that go into making these complex decisions, and we appreciate everyone's understanding as we make the best decision possible with the information that we have available to us. At the end of the day, our decision always revolves around our top priority - the safety of our students and our staff

So, I close with two Facebook comments which speak to the essence of my decision making around snow days:
•    Guys, just don't send your kids to school. Not a big deal.
•    Always your choice to send your child to school or not. The schools are open as a safe place. If you don’t feel comfortable getting your child to school, keep them home!
 
Happy Snowy Valentines, #AbbySchools!

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.