Public schools in Cambridge were in session on Thursday.
Typically, that wouldn’t be news, but on a day that saw a bevy of Massachusetts school districts, including the one right across the river in Boston, declare a snow day, the district’s superintendent apparently felt the need to explain himself.
In a statement posted to the district’s website Thursday, Kenneth N. Salim acknowledged the district received a “number of messages questioning whether we made the right call.”
“Please know that your questions and concerns have been heard and we are especially committed to analyzing our practices in terms of the impact of staying open on staff members who live in other communities,” he said in the statement.
The nor’easter that started Wednesday night dumped more than 8 inches of snow in Chelsea and parts of Boston, according to the National Weather Service, and left hundreds of thousands in the state without power.
Forecasters did not have specific snowfall totals for Cambridge, but neighboring Arlington saw 9.5 inches of snow from the storm, and parts of Boston were blanketed by 8 inches of snow. The nor’easter that started Wednesday night also left hundreds of thousands in the state without power.
In his statement, Salim explained what he considers when he makes, or doesn’t make, the snow day call. The district, he said, consults with city officials days before a major storm is expected to land. School officials talk with public works brass about “their projected ability to plow bus lanes and school parking lots.” There is also discussion with Cambridge officials about downed trees and power lines, according to Salim’s statement.
“Depending on the timing, if a parking ban is being put in place, that will often trigger us to close school,” he wrote. “In this instance, the City did not institute a parking ban.”
The city subscribes to and monitors two private weather services that offer pinpointed forecasts for Cambridge, he said.
If storm conditions are difficult to predict the night before, Salim said, Cambridge school officials will drive the city’s streets before dawn, typically between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., to gauge the conditions around schools. That happened early Thursday, he said.
Since the district has staggered school start times, “delaying school has traditionally been viewed as too complicated to be done safely,” Salim said in his statement.
That approach may change, however, thanks to “questions being raised by the community,” he said. The district will review its ability to have a delayed opening, according to Salim.
“Although conditions were generally calm here in Cambridge, we recognize that it was difficult for staff members to make it into the City from many neighboring communities,” he said in his letter.
Salim said he believed it was safe for students to get to school Thursday but admitted that he was “less certain about whether staying open was the most productive decision.”
“We will learn from this experience and continually strive to improve our practices,” he said in the statement.