1. What will the weather be at the time the buses begin to roll? This could be as much as two hours before the school day actually begins. Although we all have access to tons of weather information, this information can often be wrong. You would have to have a crystal ball to really know for sure.
2. What will the weather be at the time the first bell rings? You have to consider what is required to get sidewalks and entrances to each school clear enough to avoid accidents when thousands of people are traversing each entry point.
3. What will the weather be at the time the last bell rings, through when the last bus is finished its run. It's not enough to get the kids safely TO school, you have to be sure you can get them home as well. Just ask the folks in Atlanta what happens when you don't consider this.
4. Will the local public works crews be able to get the streets clear enough during the morning and afternoon commutes? This requires an understanding of the capacity of your own public works crews. Some do an amazing job, while others struggle to keep up.
5. Will most of your parents have to go to work? Parents who still have to work and have no place to send their kids will be very angry (rightly so) if you call an unnecessary snow day. This is especially true if you call it late, without providing them ample time to make arrangements.
6. What decision will your colleagues in surrounding districts make? If everyone else calls a snow day and you don't, you will be judged harshly by your critics. The same is true if you call it and nobody else does.
7. If you call a snow day, what will the impact to the school calendar be? Many districts have a couple of days built into the calendar, but some don't. If you have a particularly snowy winter, you may have already exceeded your allotted days. You have to think ahead and determine how you could potentially make up the days. Will you have to give up part of spring break? Memorial Day? Extend the year to the end of June? Even if people agree that you make the decision to have a snow day, they will soon become enraged when they lose out on a planned vacation.
8. The quality of instruction must be considered. If a large number of parents decide to keep their kids home if you have school when it is snowing, you will lose instructional quality. Research indicates that snow days don't negatively impact achievement, but having school when large numbers of students are absent does. If you are particularly concerned about your state test scores, this will likely influence your decision.
9. What events are happening on this particular day and how will you adjust if you miss them? Is there mandatory testing? Visiting speakers? Professional development? How will you make these things up?
10. Will your teachers be able to make it in to work? If your district happens to have a large number of teachers who live far away, in an area that is impacted more than where your schools are, you may have large numbers of absent teachers. Will you be able to provide appropriate supervision and instruction if this happens?
As you can see, there are many things to consider. This is a decision that is yours alone to make, but requires consultation with many people. You want to make the decision as quickly as possible so people can plan, but not before you have as much weather information as possible. I hope we won't have too many more days this winter when countless school superintendents have to make this decision. Meanwhile, I hope everyone stays safe and warm during this amazing storm.