Superintendents weigh pros and cons of cancellations

Jessica Schladebeck

An early-morning snowstorm means an extra early morning for the York County superintendents tasked with making the decision of whether or not to cancel or delay the opening of their schools.

Snow falls in York City Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

West York Superintendent Emilie Lonardi said she's already reaching out to forecasters as early as 4:30 a.m. to make an informed decision with time to communicate with parents and students.

"If the storm strikes in the evening, the decision is considerably easier," said Lonardi in an outline of her decision-making process. "Unfortunately, Mother Nature can be difficult to predict, and that sometimes causes forecasters to be less precise than I need them to be when determining whether or not to close or delay schools."

And Mother Nature was indeed a bit tricky on Tuesday, putting most forecasters off the mark. On Monday, the National Weather Service predicted snow would begin falling between 7 and 10 that evening, but the wintry weather actually began significantly later — around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, after many districts had made the decision to stay open.

Eastern York Superintendent Darla Pianowski, in a notice posted to the district's website, said she must make a decision by 5:30 a.m. so that it can then be communicated to parents and students.

"If I wait longer to announce a closing, some parents will have already left for work, leaving their children unsupervised," she said.

Nearly all York County students were granted an early dismissal, with some buses turning around before they even arrived at the schools.

Red Lion Area School District, citing a "sudden change" in travel conditions, announced around 8 a.m. on Tuesday that buses would not make the rounds to pick up its elementary school students, and secondary students would be taken back home as the weather permitted.

South Eastern School District also closed for the day, and York County School of Technology sent its students home at 9:30 a.m.

York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle said situations like the one on Tuesday are among the most challenging in regards to cancellations.

"The most difficult call to make is when there is a forecast of a significant weather condition to begin between 6 and 10 a.m.," she said in a notice to parents. "Such decisions may have to be based on forecast alone, and we all know that forecasts can be wrong."

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at