by Terry Duffy
Lewiston-Porter School District students, like tens of thousands of others in Erie and Niagara counties, were treated to a day off Wednesday, as Lew-Port school officials opted to heed the warnings posted by the National Weather Service of a monstrous winter storm, one that was well forecasted, but never materialized.
For Lew-Port students, it marked the first day off this school year that was attributed to the weather.
Dr. R. Christopher Roser, Lewiston-Porter superintendent of schools, said he erred on the side of caution in making the decision, which he now admits was pre-emptive.
He said the Lew-Port district adheres to state education guidelines of a 180-day school year, but actually schedules Lew-Port students for 183 days, thus providing for an ample supply of "snow days" as needed.
Generally, "we look at the conditions, the safety of the roads to get the students here, we look at the weather," said Roser of the criteria usually considered in making the decision to close. He said snow, temperatures and wind chill factors all come into play, along with road conditions. He noted that, in winter, Lew-Port school buses have such issues as wide-open, snowy roads in the northern part of the district and hilly areas on the escarpment in their transport of students to the Creek Road campus. Moreover, Lew-Port staffers often drive in from distant areas.
Roser said that in addition to weather forecasts, the Lew-Port district works closely with the Lewiston and Porter highway departments, the Lewiston Police, Niagara County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police in determining overall road/safety conditions and when to close.
So, what happened Wednesday?
"The big thing was the warning," Roser said, pointing out that unlike all the other severe winter weather forecasts issued thus far this winter by the National Weather Service, this one merited special attention. "Every one earlier was not a warning, they were advisories."
"Wednesday's decision (to close) was pre-emptive," Roser said. "Everyone closed down. We actually wanted to wait, but we went with the others."
Roser said Lew-Port officials discussed the situation throughout the day on Tuesday with 10 representatives of Niagara-Orleans BOCES, and the ultimate decision to close came around 8 p.m. "We spoke with Wilson, Starpoint, Niagara Falls, Wheatfield. Everyone else had done it; my call came in around 8:30. Niagara Falls and myself, we're the last ones," said Roser.
"I kept waiting; it's so unpredictable," he said of the weather and the decision to close. Roser admits he is still learning the area's winter weather quirks, the lake effect snow differences and other factors and said he strives to keep Lew-Port schools open. Roser also admitted he had his reservations on the decision to close by late Tuesday. "I looked outside Tuesday, and I didn't see anything" of the feared onslaught of snow. "I mean, they were forecasting 18 inches; we only got around three.
"The next day there was no doubt in my mind" that he should have kept Lew-Port open. "The road crews had it ready."
But Roser was quick to add, "It's better to be safe than sorry" of his decision to close down Wednesday. "Generally, I hate to close, but if you have an accident, you could really have a problem."
Roser said he has not received any calls from parents regarding the closing, but said he received plenty last week following his decision to keep Lew-Port open on Monday, Jan. 24, despite overnight temperatures in the area that plunged to minus 16. "We had a lot of complaints. It's a lesson to be learned," he said.