By Bart Bronk
University Liggett School Head of School
This week’s unexpectedly intense snow event, which broke state records for the entire month of November, provides an opportunity (perhaps earlier than we all anticipated) to share more about the process by which we make a decision whether to close school. As you know, we communicate such decisions via emergency email, text, phone call, and on our social media channels and website. If you did not receive this communication, please contact the school and let us know.
Our first priority is always the safety of our students, families, faculty and staff. If there exist current or forecasted weather conditions that could potentially impact the safety of these community members in their travel to school, or once here, we activate an established protocol to monitor and respond as appropriate. Conditions that are considered include the amount and type of snow and other forms of freezing precipitation, extreme cold temperatures and wind chills, the status of utilities (electricity, water and heat) and road and visibility conditions.
If the administrative team determines in its best judgment that any combination of these conditions compromises safe travel to school, or our ability to safely conduct our program, we will cancel school at the earliest possible moment.
Sometimes, the certainty of a forecast allows us to make this notification the night before the weather event.
On other occasions, conflicting or uncertain forecasts dictate waiting until early morning to make our final decision. In that event, I am awake at 4:00 a.m. monitoring actual weather conditions and checking road conditions by driving on side streets, main thoroughfares, and on I-94, and communicating with the administrative, transportation, and operations teams. We do our best to announce such a morning closure no later than 6 a.m.
This past Tuesday, for example, conflicting forecasts suggested that Monday’s snow event could end at midnight or continue unabated into Tuesday morning. When morning arrived, we saw continued snowfall, local roads that were largely unplowed and in poor condition, and temperatures that could lead to additional icing. We chose to close school, as did more than 700 school districts in the region, and nearly all of our independent and parochial school peers.
An important characteristic to remember is that University Liggett School is a regional institution, with 625 students who come from more than 55 zip codes with their parents, on our school busses, and in their own cars (many as relatively new drivers). Additionally, our staff of 120 comes from a number of areas across the region.
While we are situated in Grosse Pointe and certainly proactively respond to specific conditions in the Grosse Pointes (in nearly all cases, if Grosse Pointe Public Schools close, we will also do so), we also must be cognizant of the more than 40% of students and families, and a number of faculty and staff, who travel to school from beyond the Grosse Pointes’ borders. As such, we monitor weather conditions and school closings across the region, especially in the City of Detroit, along the I-94/Macomb corridor, and in our immediate neighboring areas of Harper Woods, Eastpointe, and St. Clair Shores. In this approach, our typical decision-making will more closely mirror that of other regional “destination” institutions, namely the parochial high schools and our independent school peers.
We are always chagrined, as are many of our students, to lose a day of learning and joy to weather conditions. However, if such a decision is necessary, in our best good faith judgment, to keep our wonderful kids and dedicated adults safe, we will never hesitate to make that tough call.
In that spirit, we appreciate your understanding, flexibility, and partnership.