Why One South Jersey Superintendent Kept His Schools Open During Thursday’s Storm
STAFFORD — The list of school districts around New Jersey that canceled or delayed classes in anticipation of Thursday's snowstorm was long, but missing one very big district.
The Southern Regional School District in southern Ocean County, which includes more than 3,000 students from Barnegat Light, Beach Haven, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ocean Township, Ship Bottom, Stafford and Surf City, had class despite a forecast calling for 4-8 inches of snow.
"I don't make decisions based on forecasts. I make decisions based on actual events as it's unfolding and where those events occur in relation to the time of day," Superintendent Craig Henry said.
"I've had experiences in the past where forecasts change, particularly in our geographical locale where you have high and low pressure areas significantly influenced by the Gulf streams and ocean temperatures," Henry said.
"There isn't any opening or closing decision taken lightly. The decision to close is always in the safety and best interest if the people who have to drive here" Henry said, adding that it includes many young drivers behind the wheel of the their own cars.
Henry, a trained pilot with experience to checking weather conditions, said he drove around the district around 4 a.m. on Thursday morning and encountered only rain and wind, which he said are pretty routine conditions. He also consulted with the district transportation managers, custodial staff and the county road department.
"A delayed opening would have put the arrival at school right at the midst of when it was forecast to turn from rain to snow," Henry said, adding that he thought an early dismissal might be called. "But once we got here and I saw the pace of the storm was increasing and a forecast of 5-8 inches had been downgraded to 1-3," he realized that would not be necessary.
Even after evaluating conditions, Henry is hesitant to call a snow day because he believes that it's a good lesson for students to press forward despite the snow. He pointed out to student athletes who spent Thursday afternoon practicing instead of being home. That could give them an advantage over their opponents.
Red Bank Catholic was closed on Thursday and opened at its regular time Friday even though many other schools delayed their opening bells.
"We have 50 to 60 districts or schools sending students to us" from a 50 mile radius around the Monmouth County school, Red Bank Catholic Assistant Principal Karen Falco said. "If some district is sending a bus we don't want the building to be closed or a parent inconvenienced and have to somehow get their child to school two hours later. That's not fair."
Falco said that since their commencement is held someplace other than the school, they don't have the luxury of adding school days to meet a 180-day requirement and moving the date of graduation.
Henry saw a silver lining in being in class on Thursday.
"I told students to consider that on June 13 when the district has its day on the beach other districts that were off today will be in class."
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