The student news site of Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vermont

Common Ground

The student news site of Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vermont

Common Ground

The student news site of Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vermont

Common Ground

Rain or Snow: Weather-Related Closures at Harwood


During your time as a student within the Harwood Union School District, you may have questioned how weather-related delays, early releases, and other closures are determined at Harwood. You might’ve even disagreed with a closure or the lack of one. The weather this school year has been rough: we’ve had several weather-related closures and two-hour delays so far this year. You might have even repeatedly checked in anticipation of more, despite minimal snow this year. We even experienced a very early release towards the end of 2023. But really, what constitutes a weather-related closure?

Weather-related closures happen for a multitude of reasons, though with Harwood being in Vermont, snowy and icy conditions, along with downed trees and power outages, are among the most common. Hence, why the term snow day is thrown around so much. Though, as shown a few months ago, closures can also happen due to other types of emergencies as well.


The Process of Closing School

The process of closing down a school may not be exactly what you think it is. In Vermont, there is only one person within each school district who has the legal authority to call weather-related closures: the superintendent. In the case of the Harwood Unified Union School District, the superintendent is Dr. Mike Leichliter. That means that whether HUHS/MS, Waitsfield Elementary, Moretown Elementary, or any other school within our district closes, Dr. Mike has to approve of it. In extreme scenarios, individuals outside of the administration can declare the school unsafe, such as the governor during a state of emergency.

In Dr. Mike’s mind, there are two types of weather-related closures: expected weather events such as a forecasted blizzard or storm, and emergency closures caused by unpredicted or unpredictable events. In Dr. Mike’s opinion, expected weather events are usually easier to deal with. “You’re monitoring, you’re prepared, and you can make a decision with a little bit of time when you wake up in the morning knowing that you want to have students in school, but you want to make sure they get there safely, so you have time to assess the damage.”

When traveling to school is expected to be hazardous, Dr. Mike himself drives around on some of the roads surrounding Harwood to determine how safe they are to travel on. “Usually I drive down through the valley, but I’ll take different routes depending on the kind of snow it is. If it’s lighter snow and a really cold time, I’ll probably go up on some of the hills to see how that snow is impacting the condition of dirt roads. If there’s a lot of wind, I may go to an area that’s more flat where there could be a lot of drifting on the roads.”

Dr. Mike doesn’t act alone, though. Advice from Harwood’s Bus Barn and road crews also helps him decide whether or not to close school. “I consult with this person at the Bus Barn, his name is Dan Sargeant, he’s in charge [of Harwood’s busing], he always talks to the road crews. He’ll say ‘Hey, I talked to the road crews, they think we’ll be okay with a two-hour delay.’ We rely heavily on the advice from all of the town road crews.” According to Dr. Mike, Sargeant himself also scouts out the roads. Believe it or not, there is even a group chat of superintendents from surrounding districts that consult with each other if they are closing their respective schools, aiding in the process of determining school closures.


Making up Snow Days and Waiving Snow Days

Although snow-days seem rewarding at first, there is also the matter of making them up.  In Vermont, schools are legally obligated to have at least 175 full-length school days per school year. Typically, schools by default plan to have more than this amount of school days with Harwood having 177 school days planned for the 23/24 school year as an example. But what happens if so many days of school are missed that the threshold of 175 days is not met?

You’re probably familiar with the fact that up to seven extra days are added at the end of the school year to make up for the missed days. What you might not be familiar with is the fact that snow days can be waived by the state in situations that cannot be controlled. ”If you have a situation where there is some kind of emergency or natural disaster, you can ask the state to waive additional days. So for example, this year I’ll be able to apply for those two days and say that they were closures beyond our control, they were due to the flood,” Dr. Mike explained. The ability to waive missed days is great for both students and teachers, because it essentially excuses missed days throughout the school year without consequence.

It is still very important that school is open for the mandatory amount of days. You may have noticed that in almost all scenarios where there’s a closure within the school district, all other schools within the district will close as well. There are multiple reasons for this, such as consistency between the number of running days between all of the Harwood Unions School District schools, but more importantly because dangerous weather conditions will likely be present and consistent in most towns included in our district anyway.

Even though the stay of the snowy weather seems to have been cut short this year, there’s still a chance there might be more weather-related closures throughout the year. Who knows? With the way this winter has been, a mud day seems to be likely.

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