Weather Closings Don't Warm the Heart

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By: J. Glenn Hopkins, President/CEO

This season we have experienced an usually high number of severe weather events.  These events have obliged governments, school systems, and institutions to temporarily shut their doors -- much to the ire of the public, students and their parents, and even some employees.
 
This latest weather event, that blanketed much of the U.S. with snow and ice, and caused Hopkins House to close for the seventh day over the past several months, solicited an email from an unhappy parent of one of our preschool academy students.  
 
"This has become a complete inconvenience," the parent wrote, "so much so many of our family vacations will be shortened or not happening."  He went on to say, "I am concerned that this may be a way to save money on hourly staff as Federal law allows businesses to withhold pay on days closed".
 
While I don't agree with this parent's suppositions, I fully understood his frustration.  Not many people know the amount of work and thought that goes into deciding whether to close or keep an institution open during a predicted severe weather event.  I thought I would take a moment to share some of what happens behind the scenes here at Hopkins House.
 
Hopkins House is a private institution with campuses in several local jurisdictions and students and staff residing in communities throughout the metropolitan area; we do not close our facilities based on government or school district closings.  
 
Our Vice President/Chief Academic Officer (CAO) is tasked with closely monitoring forecasts during severe weather events, assessing the potential impact on our students and staff, consulting with the Parents Councils, and making a recommendation to the executive team.
 
In his assessment, the CAO must consider a number of factors, including but not limited to the answers to the following questions:
 
1. Are main and tributary roads to and from our facilities sufficiently safe for our students to travel?
2. Are the sidewalks that lead to and surround our campuses sufficiently safe for students and staff to use? 
3. Are the members of our staff able to travel (by car and/or public transportation) to our locations from their own neighborhoods?
4. Is public transportation available for our staff and students in the event that road travel is limited or unavailable?
5. Are our staff members able to find care for their own children who may be out of school due to closings/late openings in their own communities? 
6. Is our caterer able to prepare and deliver food for students to our preschool academies?
7. Does our groundskeeper have sufficient time to clear the sidewalks and grounds near and around our locations?
8. In ice events, have overhead tree branches and power lines been cleared?
9. Is there power in our facilities, and are they sufficiently warm for occupancy?
10. Are we adequately prepared, including telephone service and sufficient staffing, in the event of an emergency or prolonged weather event?
 
The CAO shares his assessment with the preschool academy principals, program directors, and Parents Council presidents.  If all of these individuals concur with the CAO’s assessment, a recommendation is relayed to the executive staff and a decision is made.
 
We do not delay openings because, while convenient for some, they are, more often than not, based on our experience, a great inconvenience for others.  In past times, when we delayed opening our preschool academy, for example, parents complained loudly that their day was disrupted by the delay getting to work.  When we were developing this policy, parents resoundingly recommended that, if we are to close, we should close for all of the day rather than part.  
 
As you can imagine, all this takes a great deal of time and coordination among several parties.  As bad weather approaches, many members of our staff are dashing about collecting the necessary information to form a reasonable assessment of the conditions and impact on the institution, its facilities, students, and staff.  But, as our policy dictates, we must complete this work by 10 pm the night prior to a predicted weather event, in time to give notice to our students and staff -- and, often ahead of changing weather conditions and forecasts. 
 
This process has been in place for several years now, and was developed in consultation with our Parents Councils following a major snow storm that closed Hopkins House and other local institutions for more than a week. 
 
From my perspective, as the Chief Executive Officer and person ultimately responsible for the decision to close Hopkins House, this decision is always made with an overabundance of worry, doubt, and anxiety.  
 
I worry about the reliability of the weather forecast, the mountain of emails and paperwork already on my desk and certain to grow still taller during our closing, and the flood of unanticipated bills to clean away what the bad weather has left us and make our facilities and campuses safe for our students and staff.  
 
I worry about the learning time lost for our students, the lost work hours for their parents and, sadly, I admit, the cost of paying Hopkins House employees to wait out the weather at home.  
 
In the end, reluctantly, I resign myself to the fact that our budget for weather events is beyond just busted and I put off to another day worries about how to pay for it all.  
 
Despite these worries, the only factor we consider in making the decision to close our offices and programs is the safety and well-being of our students and our staff.  This is the simple truth of the matter. 
 
Despite this simple truth, I am under no illusion that knowing all that goes into the decision to close this institution during severe inclement weather will warm many hearts.  Closing, despite the reasons, is simply inconvenient and frustrating - for everyone.  I am, however, hopeful that knowing that these difficult decisions are not made lightly or callously will ease some of the frustration.

COMMENTS (7 Comments)

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J. Glenn Hopkins
Marsha K. Thank you for your comments. If there is another way -- that does not endanger the safety of our students, their parents, and our staff -- I would really like to hear it. Weather conditions of late have been particularly challenging, for you and for Hopkins House. I assure you, Hopkins House management is as frustrated as you are.
11:59 PM Mar 27th | Report abuse
 

J. Glenn Hopkins
Mrs. Williams, thank you for your comment. I do hear and very much appreciate the issue you raise. Please know that we absolutely do take into account the financial burden on you and the other parents with children enrolled at the academy. But, also understand that it is costly for Hopkins House as well to close during unsafe weather conditions. Our doors may be closed but the bills still come -- as I am sure is true for you and the other parents as well. As I stated in my blog, already this year, due to these weather closings, Hopkins House has been obliged to spend way beyond any funds we have available. However, fully recognizing the burden on families, our Trustees have decided to absorb these costs as best we can rather than pass them on -- as is the case with other child care centers and businesses in the area. We made this decision fully aware that cuts will have to be made elsewhere in our already anemic budget. Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts and your concerns.
11:55 PM Mar 27th | Report abuse
 

J. Glenn Hopkins
Mrs. Irwin, thank you for your comments. To answer your questions: Yes, our employees are paid during these weather related closures. Yes, closures for each of our preschool academies are determined independently. Regarding our weather closure policy, we would certainly be open to any suggestions you and the Parents Council might have to improve it. And, congratulations on your new post as President of the Helen Day Preschool Academy Parents Council.
11:37 PM Mar 27th | Report abuse
 

Marsha K
Not all parents have children in public schools or work for the government. It is really inconvenient for parents who work in private industry when the preschool closes because of a few snow flakes. There must be a better way.
11:13 PM Mar 27th | Report abuse
 

Purvi Irwin
Dear Mr. Hopkins,

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I am Purvi Irwin, the current president of the Helen Day Parents' Council. We have had a lot of discussions about this among the parents at our school about these closures and I think that it might be time to revisit some of these policies. Many parents have expressed that they would like a delayed opening as that is less disruptive than closure altogether. Most of the families at Hopkins House are different now than they were 4 years ago when we had those terrible snow storms that closed down the whole region for a week, and with the change in families comes a change in priorities.

One thing that is unclear to me is the issue with the cost of paying employees to stay at home. We as parents are still paying the full tuition, so my assumption is that the teachers are getting paid no matter what. If this is not the case, then I have a great issue with this, and I know that other parents do as well. No parent would want the teacher to not be paid because they are unable to get to work due to the weather. Another question that I have, do all the branches of Hopkins House close or is the determination made based on the specific location? If all close, then this will be a very large issue when the Herndon branch opens because the weather is often much worse out in Herndon than in Alexandria. I hope that this is not the case, as we are not a school district but a private facility.

Thank You.
Purvi Irwin

9:06 PM Mar 19th | Report abuse
 

Jodi Williams
I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post; however, one concern that I feel has not been addressed is the financial burden on the parents. For me, and I'm sure other parents as well, the number of closures by far exceeds my allotted time off, meaning I have to take unpaid time off from work for every closure, as well as pay for child care that is not being provided. This is incredibly challenging and frustrating. And it adds insult to injury when we are greeted after yet another unexpected closure with, "how was your holiday?!"
7:32 AM Mar 18th | Report abuse
 

Purvi Irwin
Dear Mr. Hopkins,

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I am Purvi Irwin, the current president of the Helen Day Parents' Council. We have had a lot of discussions about this among the parents at our school about these closures and I think that it might be time to revisit some of these policies. Many parents have expressed that they would like a delayed opening as that is less disruptive than closure altogether. Most of the families at Hopkins House are different now than they were 4 years ago when we had those terrible snow storms that closed down the whole region for a week, and with the change in families comes a change in priorities.

One thing that is unclear to me is the issue with the cost of paying employees to stay at home. We as parents are still paying the full tuition, so my assumption is that the teachers are getting paid no matter what. If this is not the case, then I have a great issue with this, and I know that other parents do as well. No parent would want the teacher to not be paid because they are unable to get to work due to the weather. Another question that I have, do all the branches of Hopkins House close or is the determination made based on the specific location? If all close, then this will be a very large issue when the Herndon branch opens because the weather is often much worse out in Herndon than in Alexandria. I hope that this is not the case, as we are not a school district but a private facility.

Thank You.
Purvi Irwin

10:08 AM Mar 17th | Report abuse