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Snow Has Many Superintendents Thinking Of Groundhog Day03:19
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Snow-covered buses in Kansas Wednesday, as schools there also were off this Groundhog Day (AP)
Snow-covered buses in Kansas Wednesday, as schools there also were off this Groundhog Day (AP)

Groundhog Day falls every Feb. 2, but this snowy winter, every day feels like Groundhog Day when that radio goes off in the morning.

Around the state, many routinely wake up to Morning Edition's Bob Oakes. Lately, they often hear Oakes say something to the effect of:

"More than 150 schools are closed, or are letting students out early today. For the full list, go to our website, wbur.org."

For Susan Cote, the superintendent of schools in East Bridgewater, the novelty of canceling school wore off a long time ago.

"The safety of the kids at bus stops and walking and stuff becomes one of the main reasons why you end up canceling."

Susan Cote, East Bridgewater superintendent

"I think as a kid, people always think that that's the greatest job," Cote said. "They think, 'Oh, I'd love to be the person who gets to call off school.' And as superintendent, the first time you do it, it's like, 'Wow, I'm finally the person that gets to call of school.' But let me tell you, it's the worst part of the job. It's always something that you dread."

Dread, in part, because every snow day now means a makeup day sometime in the future. It also means somebody is inevitably inconvenienced.

So, exactly what goes into making that decision to call off school? Tops on the list, according to Cote, is the safety of the children.

"It becomes more dangerous for the kids that are walking, the kids waiting at a bus stop," Cote said. "I mean, right now you come to the end of a side street, you can't even see around the corner. So it really worries me — the safety of the kids at bus stops and walking and stuff becomes one of the main reasons why you end up canceling."

This year decisions to cancel school have been tricky. The timing of the storms — in the middle of the week, in the early morning — means the superintendents aren't getting a lot of sleep.

"Our routine is, the superintendents in the area get up at 4:30 a.m.," Cote said. "We get online, we talk to each other online between 4:30 and 5 a.m. and we try to make the same decision. So, West Bridgewater, Bridgewater/Raynham, East Bridgewater, Abington, Whitman/Hanson, Rockland, we're usually in communication with each other and usually try to do the same thing because it's always difficult when one of us does something different — you know, that one person is always the bad guy."

All school districts build in a few extra makeup days at the end of the school year. Since most districts have had to cancel about four days so far this year because of the snow, they're all OK... for now. With the state requiring students to attend 180 days in a school year, there could be problems if big storms keep coming.

"I think once we use the five, then six, seven, or so (days), that's when you really start to think about the vacation days," Cote said. "But that becomes difficult because we have a lot of teachers that plan vacations that have already paid for them, so you're looking at not having a teaching staff that's going to be available and a lot of families that aren't available. So scheduling during a school vacation becomes extremely difficult. Saturdays, I think, would be my last choice."

This year, East Bridgewater started school before Labor Day so Cote hopes she won't have to expand the school calendar. Nevertheless, Cote in East Bridgewater, and her counterparts across the state, are thinking about alternative plans should the snow days continue to mount.

The old threat of kids having to go to school right through the Fourth of July is not one of the options. The state requires any make up days to be made up by June 30.

Related:

This program aired on February 2, 2011.

Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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