Metro Detroit superintendents make pivotal decisions about school closings as massive snowstorm nears

Detroit public schools will shift to remote learning if travel is difficult

ROMEO, Mich – The concept of snow days has undoubtedly changed for many Michigan schools thanks to remote learning during the COVID pandemic.

Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Dr. Nikolai Vitti says, “if heavy snow comes, we will shift to online learning for the bad weather days to ensure learning continues. Schools will not be canceled.”

Districts all over Metro Detroit are grappling with similar decisions.

The snow event is tricky because it becomes a three-day-plus snow event for schools. It’s not just about snow coming in Wednesday and possibly gumming up school dismissal.

It’s about snow coming in Wednesday, possibly gumming up school dismissal, snow continuing into Thursday, gumming up school arrivals, and Friday snow clean-up or lack of clean up depending on the municipality and the terrain.

Kenneth Gutman is the Superintendent of Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, which has 13,000 students.

“We’re 55 square miles,” Gutman said. “You could have snow in half of the district not have snow in the rest of the district. Theoretically, you’ll have to call a snow day if half the district had snow, depending on where your transportation is. Then when you look at cleaning up a snow emergency, there are different levels that the city provides.”

Dr. Robert Livernois is Superintendent of Warren Consolidated Schools, which educates more than 13,000 students.

“The timing of the snow really plays into the ability for the buses to move whether it’s in the morning or even after school,” Dr. Livernois said. “The transportation is by far one of the big ones.”

Dr. John Dignan is the Wayne Westland Community School District Superintendent, which has 9,500 students.

“I can drop salt right now, and it’s going to kind of wash it away,” Dr. Dignan said. “So even with our operations department, they have to consider the equipment because a lot of times when the snow is too heavy, it can break a lot of our equipment.”

Superintendents in Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland Counties met today to talk amongst themselves as most will operate similarly. In those talks, the need to become meteorologists and tea-leaf readers rolled into the already difficult task as an educator.

But with this particular snow event, there is plenty of advanced warning, so decisions won’t likely be made in the morning.

A poll across the tri-county area with various Superintendents seems to be a consensus that will call for a snow day somewhere between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 1) afternoon. So keep an eye on your phone for a district message or check the school website within that window to find out the plan for your particular district.

Will Metro Detroit schools give kids an actual snow day? Or will they just switch back over to virtual learning for a day or two?

As school districts across the metro area dance with the weather and work to decide whether to call a snow day or tough it out. Nine snow days are allotted in the school calendar; thus far, the snow event will likely eat up one or two of those days.

As Metro Detroit dance with the weather and work to decide whether to call a snow day or tough it out. Nine snow days are allotted in the school calendar; thus far, the snow event will likely eat up one or two of those days.

There’s another conversation going on in these meetings.

Dr. John Dignan, Superintendent of Wayne Westland Community Schools, says it out loud.

“I’m gonna be honest with you, I think just for this year, that we’re going to transition to remote learning down the line, especially when we have big storms, or it’s a flu season in the building,” Dr. Dignan said.

Kenneth Gutman, Superintendent of Walled Lake Consolidated School System, says don’t fret this time around. If he calls a snow day for this particular snow event, it will be just that, a snow day.

“We’re going to call them old school snow days, and students will stay at home and relax,” said Gutman. “So will our staff. It’s been a hard couple of years for our staff as well.”

Since the start of the pandemic, a snow day has become more than a safety call for educators. It has also become a mental health day call and Dignan, by the way, agrees we have to keep the tradition to some degree.

“Families have their own things like they play games or they go out and go sledding,” Dignan said. “I just think it’s important. If you can project out and have virtual days and zoom, I think that’s important for our kids to experience snow days.”

But what the pandemic has taught us is that education can continue even when students can’t get to school. But it’s still not as easy as just throwing a switch, says Dr. Robert Livernois of the Warren Consolidated School District.

“For example, if we were to call a snow day for Wednesday (Feb. 2) at 5 a.m. and the student, he or she had left their laptop in their locker, your chances for remote learning are lost,” said Dr. Livernois. “When you multiply that in our case 25 schools, it can get complicated very quickly. So I think it’s important, the idea of going remote comes with a substantial arraignment of technology and notification in a number of other things.”

About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's married and the stepmother of three beautiful and brilliant daughters. Her personal philosophy in life, love and community is, "Do as much as you can possibly do, not as little as you can possibly get away with".

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.