Prepare for 12″-17″ in Winter Snowstorm This Week (and What that Means for Wilton Schools)

Significant snowfall in March 2015

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch in effect for Wilton from Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16 through Thursday afternoon, Dec. 17. The forecast calls for heavy snow, with a total snow accumulation of 12-17 inches possible. Winds could gust as high as 45 mph, especially along the coast.

The watch covers portions of northeast New Jersey, southern Connecticut, and southeast New York.

The NWS warns that travel could be “very difficult to impossible,” and that “hazardous conditions could impact the Wednesday evening and Thursday morning commute.”

Wilton Police Chief John Lynch shared his warning ahead of the storm, noting that residents should continue to monitor news, as the storm still may track in a different way to cause less snow.

He made several suggestions to residents:

  • stock up on food and water
  • check generators and make sure to have enough fuel; he reminded residents to not run generators or other gas-powered equipment in or near homes
  • charge electrical devices ahead of time
  • stay off roadways to allow public works personnel to clear them properly.

Impact on Wilton Public Schools

A snowstorm of this magnitude would typically be expected to close schools for at least a day. However, with the current hybrid model involving at least some remote learning for Wilton students, as well as the capability to flexibly transition the district to all-remote learning if necessary, the prospect of a snowstorm now means something very different–in other words, it means snow won’t necessarily close the schools for a “snow day”.

On Monday, Superintendent Kevin Smith communicated that message to the school community.

He explained that the district does have a plan for inclement weather days, which includes permission to use remote learning in place of weather-related closures that the State Board of Education gave to all school districts. Smith added his intention is “to take advantage of that opportunity,” and that families should plan accordingly.

By going remote instead of using a snow day, the district won’t have to add as many additional days onto the end of the school-year calendar. The move would also “protect continuity of learning and promote predictability in the school calendar.”

Smith explained the variables that will influence his decision to either close outright or hold a remote-learning day, including widespread power outages that could impact the ability of students and staff to connect remotely. But the primary consideration in the decision to close or delay, Smith said, is the safety of students and staff.

“As our students in the schools range from 3 to 21 years of age, we must be concerned with the youngest pupils who ride school buses as well as the most capable of our driving teenagers. Many of our staff members live outside of Wilton and travel a fair distance to work each day. We must be concerned about their safety as well,” he noted.

Also factored into the decision is the ability of Wilton’s Department of Public Works to plow streets traveled by buses, families and teachers, and the ability of the district’s maintenance staff to clear walkways at each school site.

Smith also reminded the public that weather and road conditions could vary greatly within Wilton boundaries–even snowing in north Wilton but raining in south Wilton.

“Since this is a new opportunity and weather conditions can vary even in a relatively small geographic area, our intention is to experiment with remote learning on an inclement weather day, gather feedback from students, teachers, and families, assess the effectiveness of the day and then adjust as necessary,” he said.

How Smith Makes the Call

Smith described the process for how he decides to close school or delay its opening. First he begins constant monitoring of weather reports, usually beginning the night before. At 4 a.m. he consults the Wilton Police Department on road conditions. Then he conferences with other area school superintendents and a meteorologist to find out road conditions and weather in the region. The decision has to be made by 5 a.m.

“The decision is made based on the best estimate of what will happen in the next four to 12 hours. If weather, road, and parking lot conditions are such that safety is a problem, school will be closed and the community will be notified via the SchoolMessenger notification system. Status will be posted on the district website,” and reported to local media, including GOOD Morning Wilton.

Delayed Openings and Early Dismissals

One option the district may utilize is a 1-hr or 2-hr delay. If longer is required, the district will shift to remote learning instead for the day. The decision will be determined by the timing of a storm and/or road conditions.

Smith tries to avoid early dismissals, but in case one is absolutely necessary, he suggests families review emergency plans with their children. Notifications will be sent via SchoolMessenger and posted on the district website.