Q&A with Superintendent Dan Behm: the “Snow Week” and its effects


Q: Have you ever seen anything like this in your career? 

A: The recent extreme weather and the corresponding need to close school for so many days is unprecedented in my nearly 30 years working in schools.

Q: What has it been like having to make these decisions?

A: While it has been very frustrating to have to close school so many days over the past two weeks, I am comfortable making these decisions as opposed to the deep anxiety I would feel to have children at bus stops and on the roads during this dangerous weather.

Q: What has the response been like from the community after 5 consecutive and 10 total snow days?

A: Far and away, the community has been supportive of the decision to close school and keep people safe. However, we are all human and parents, and others certainly feel frustration as our normal routines are disrupted for such an unprecedented period of time. Also, on a couple of these closure days, some areas of the district – areas near main state trunk lines or heavily traveled roads, the conditions appear far less severe.  Our district is nearly 70 square miles and conditions can and do vary widely throughout our community. This can lead to additional frustrations if people do not see the areas where conditions are more problematic.

Q: How did you feel going into these past few days, knowing you were going to have to call even more snow days?

A: As these past few days came closer, I felt a sense of, “oh no, not this again.”  Ice storms are particularly challenging.  Conditions can change rapidly and things can go from passable to extremely dangerous in a short period of time.

Q: Of course, everyone wants to know if we’ll have to add days at the end of the year if we have any more snow days. Could you explain this situation a little bit?

A: The issue of making up days is a currently evolving issue across our state.  Hundreds of school districts are in our same situation of experiencing a record number of cancellation days.  State lawmakers are looking at passing some legislation to address this issue.  It will be several weeks until we know more about this.  Currently, we have closed school on 11 days.  Current state laws and rules allow districts six “forgiven” days (i.e. snow days) with the ability to petition the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) for three additional days.  The MDE recently stated that they would easily approve these additional three days.  This would still leave two days in an uncertain state (along with any additional snow days this winter).

Q: How do you feel about teachers giving work and keeping their classes going via Google Classroom?

A: I have seen teachers do some very creative things to keep students engaged during these long stretches of closures.  It is easy to become bored and disconnected during this time.  However, I know teachers are mindful that not every student or family has the ability to connect digitally to their teacher.  Additionally, with these past few days or widespread power outages, these connections are impossible for many students.  I think teachers are simply trying to make the best of a frustrating situation, and no one is looking to penalize students who are unable to connect to their teacher.  Sometimes, during these times, it is wonderful to lose oneself in a good book.

Q: Did you get to take any days off and stay home? If so, how did you spend your snow days?

A: Over the past two weeks, we have had eight days of cancellations.  Typically, I and many others report to work on snow days.  However, on two days during the state of emergency, we did tell all staff to stay home and we closed our snow day childcare programs.  I did stay home on these days and played some board games with my two young daughters (I lost every game!).  We also read some good books.  Sometimes, the unexpected gift of unhurried time is truly priceless.