Here I am, watching the snow fall and checking my phone just waiting to see if we will have the day off or if school is delayed. Waiting. Waiting…Of course, I would love having a relaxing day off, but I never know what factors play into the decision besides if there was snow on the ground or not. Recently, I had the chance to sit down with our principal, Mr. David Norton, and talk about the protocol and procedure when it comes to delaying and closing school for inclement weather. During my freshman year, we followed Baltimore County for all weather related decisions. Keep in mind this included not only winter weather, but weather for all seasons, such as days where it may have been too hot for students to be in school without air conditioning. However, MSJ now makes weather related decisions independently after deliberation between a group of administration and faculty.
Mr. Norton’s morning starts around 4:30 a.m. when he receives his first phone call with updates on what mother nature has brought us overnight and what we should be expecting further. Mr. Dan Peddicord, the Director of Facilities, is the first one to start checking any announcements from the counties and their weather conditions. He also finds out what the conditions on campus are like. When it comes to our campus conditions, MSJ used to be salted, plowed, and shoveled all by our own facilities staff, but that is now done by a private company. From there, Mr. Norton talks with other members of faculty and staff who are spread out across our area and ask them what the weather is doing there and what the roads are looking like. He also receives early notifications from Howard County through his wife, who works with HCPSS. Mr. Norton is responsible for making the decision on what the school day will be regarding students. Mr. Andrews makes the call for the rest of the staff and faculty.
During my interview with Mr. Norton I was surprised when he told me that, “for the most part we follow Baltimore County…we won’t go against that.” If you remember, however, a few weeks ago Baltimore County was initially delayed and then closed, yet we stayed open. Mr. Norton told me that he had already called for the two-hour delay and gave the okay for the busses to go out, which has to be done by 7:30 if we are already two hours late. This was followed by Baltimore County closing. Howard County remained open that day and Anne Arundel County had practically zero snow or ice at all. Those two counties account for about 50% of our student population, and Mr. Norton felt comfortable staying open. This was evidently the correct decision because only about 10% of students missed school that day and we saved a snow day.
Those two counties [Howard & Anne Arundel] account for about 50% of our student population.
If we don’t usually go against Baltimore County, why did we ever go independent? Some upperclassmen may remember two years ago we, and the county, closed for a snow day and our indoor track team was forced to miss championships in which they were favored to win. According to Baltimore County’s policy, if school is closed, all after-school activities are automatically cancelled. Being independent gives us the ability to reassess the situation closer to the evening and make our own call. Earlier this winter we got snow during the day while we were at school, and Mr. Norton made the decision to let us out at 12:30. Basketball was scheduled to play that night against Loyola for senior night. If we still followed BCPS, that game would’ve been automatically cancelled, but since we are now independent, it gave us the chance to see what conditions were like closer to game time and it was ultimately played.
With that being said, in situations where a student or his parents feel as though it is unsafe to come to school when we have chosen to stay open, they have the ability to make the final decision, and Mr. Norton said, “I will support that. That is a safety decision, and we will honor that.”
Going independent also allows us to make decisions on our own regarding warm weather, as I previously said. Many schools in Baltimore County don’t have air conditioning, and before last school year, we didn’t either in St. Joseph’s Hall. All buildings are now air conditioned, and it would make no sense for us to follow BCPS on those warm weather days.
Lastly, I asked Mr. Norton if he enjoys his snow days. He responded with “I do, except for when we use up all of our snow days.” He mentioned that St. Joseph’s day will be the first day to be removed and Holy Thursday is most likely after that if we continue to use up snow days. Mr. Norton also wanted me to remind students that if we do have school and you’re driving in, please slow down. Just because we have school does not mean the roads are not wet or have patches of ice. Add time to your drive on delayed days. Slow down guys, take your time.
We’ll see you at school.