David Trinko: Mobile technology changes ritual of school delays

By David Trinko

January 25, 2014

My middle daughter heard my phone buzz the other morning. She sprinted over, trying to look at that mobile wonder.

“Is there a school delay?” she asked.

This is the new world of school delays. Parents and children alike look down at their phones all morning, awaiting the email, text alert, or even call that tells them they get their own mini-Groundhog Day, with two more hours of slumber.

We’ve seen plenty of these delays. Every morning last week, at least five area districts delayed classes because of the wicked wintry weather we’ve seen.

“The ‘one call’ alerts allow some flexibility in calling a delay or cancellation, because … it is almost instantaneous, and nearly everyone has access to it,” St. Marys schools Superintendent Shawn Brown wrote via email.

Superintendents around the region agree these messages are a better way to tell students and parents about postponements and cancellations.

“It is helpful that we have so many venues by which we can put the word out,” Lima schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman said via email. “People do not say, ‘I didn’t know about that.’”

It’s an impressive tool. Joel Mengerink, superintendent at the relatively small Continental schools in Putnam County, said his district has 550 students but sends out 930 alerts each day.

“I think everyone appreciates the instant notification that they receive,” he wrote in an email. “The instant alerts allow us to notify everyone regarding not only school delays/cancellations, but also allows us to inform parents of other important changes or updates that we need to notify them of.”

Bath schools Superintendent Dale Lewellen added via email, “I never have to be concerned that someone did not get the message. In the past, students might be dropped off at school on delay or closure days when parents didn’t get the message.”

It’s a far cry from the good old days.

“I remember waiting by the radio to listen for a delay or cancellation,” Bluffton schools Superintendent Greg Denecker recalled via email. “Where I grew up the notifications was never on TV.”

Like many of the superintendents I contacted, I remember sitting by the radio all morning, waiting to hear those updated lists every 10 minutes. My school, Arlington, was at the front of the alphabetical list, so if I wasn’t paying attention, I’d miss it.

My kids have never listened to the radio for a school delay in their lives. For their entire educational careers, their dad has been updating the school delays list on all morning, so they just ask me or wonder if my phone buzzing means their district closed. Many of my winter mornings begin with a friendly phone call from the Shawnee schools alerting me to their decision for the day.

Cellphones have really revolutionized the way districts make their decisions, Shawnee Superintendent Mike Lamb wrote via email. He often communicates with other Allen County superintendents by the phone to see how the various corners of his district look.

He recalled when things weren’t so simple as he surveyed the roads back in his days as Perry’s superintendent.

“I had to walk to a farm house and beg to use their phone to call the radio stations to cancel school and to relay on the air that Mr. Lamb was stuck in a snow drift on Bowman Road,” he wrote, “and, if the maintenance men in the boiler room heard this to come out and help dig me out!”

They did. Isn’t technology amazing?