Superintendent Stands by Decision to Hold School
Says it's always a difficult judgement call, and feels she made the best decision she could with the information she had at the time.
Merrimack School Superintendent Marge Chiafery on Wednesday night said she received only two complaints personally regarding a decision to hold a full day of school earlier that day, despite a slippery commute that saw numerous accidents around town and southern New Hampshire.
While there were several complaints left about the decision on Merrimack Patch and the Merrimack Police Department Facebook pages throughout the day, Chiafery said she received only one phone call and one email questioning the decision.
“It's a very hard decision to make,” Chiafery said following a school budget hearing Wednesday night. “Because, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, really.”
Chiafery said student safety is the No. 1 concern, the school calendar No. 2, and she made the decision based on the information she had at the time, believing it to be the right one.
“You're trying to make best judgement, obviously, and when you say safety you don't want to put kids in a difficult situation,” Chiafery said.
Chiafery said she made the decision between 4:30 and 5 a.m.,which was before the snow started falling. It's always possible that the snow weather isn't going to start when forecasters expect, Chiafery said, adding that her thought was as long as they could get the kids to school, by the time the day ended, the roads would be treated the snow lightening up.
“I conferred with my colleagues up and down the corridor,” Chiafery said of Bedford Superintendent Tim Mayes and Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad, and she also spoke with Merrimack's School Transportation Coordinator Richard Desmond. These are people she regularly speaks with when a decision has to be made.
Unfortunately, the roads were slick once the buses got out there, Chiafery said, but she believed this morning and believes now that the children were in good hands.
“I have a great deal of faith in our bus drivers and the transportation coordinator in this district,” she said.
Desmond is a former police officer and she said she values his opinion when it comes to snow events and he was in agreement with her Wednesday morning.
There was one accident with a bus during the commute to school, in which a car slid and hit a bus at the corner of Seaverns Bridge and Bates roads, according to Police Lt. Matthew Tarleton earlier in the day.
Chiafery said that was the only accident she was aware of. Some buses were late to school but she'd not heard of any significant delays, and bus drivers were expressly told to make it to school when they could, even if it meant they would be late, driving safely was the most important thing.
Chiafery said throughout the day the snow slowed and stopped and restarted again, but given that the roads were being treated and in fairly good shape by the end of the day, she retained school district activities for the evening. Clubs and coaches were allowed to call events if they wanted to, and many did, and Dover requested a snow date for the scheduled hockey game Wednesday afternoon, she said.
Having been in this school district since 1978, Chiafery said she's seen a lot of snowy school days. She remembers some heavy storms in the '80s when there is no question school would be called off today, but it was held then.
“It seems as though we've changed our thinking a bit,” she said. “I think we might tend to cancel more easily.”