As a snowfall blanketed the city outside Finley Middle School Monday, Superintendent Joseph Laria addressed a parent's question there at the Board of Education's meeting.
A woman asked why schools weren't closed or delayed March 8, when seven inches of snow made Glen Cove one of the hardest hit locations in the region.
Laria said the decision is based on three factors: the safety of students and staff; the ability of the district's maintenance crews to clear school grounds; and the weather forecast.
"It's probably one of the toughest judgment calls that any superintendent can make because no one is ever satisfied," Laria said.
If schools close, angry parents call and demand to know why. If schools don't close, angry parents call and demand to know why not. Board President Joel Sunshine said delayed openings draw the most ire from parents; calling out of work or finding day care after a closure is one thing, they tell him, but finding coverage for two hours is next to impossible.
Laria said that delayed openings had never been used by Glen Cove before he came on as superintendent and instituted them, and had not been much of a concept on Long Island.
Glen Cove schools opened March 8 at the regular time while most nearby districts delayed their openings.
"Let me be very specific. On the morning of March the 8th - and I was in New York, despite rumors saying I wasn't - at four-o'clock in the morning I began the process. At 4:15, Joe Fiorino checked in with me, on my home phone in Suffolk County, and told me he was in the process of clearing the grounds of the high school, and he would check in with me as each school was cleared to give me a prognosis of whether the grounds would be cleared to accept buses and vehicular traffic," Laria said.
Fiorino, the district's facilities director, reported the grounds were cleared at 4:30 a.m., by which time Laria said he had been in regular communication with Hendrickson Bus Company, based in Bayville. The company does its own assessments, Laria said, and they reported they were "ready to go."
Past experiences also play into such decisions, said Laria. The last delayed opening, criticized by some parents, had been decided when the bus company reported they were not ready to go.
This time they were, so with school grounds cleared, the bus fleet ready for action and weather forecasts predicting the snowfall would give way to a rainy mix by mid-morning, Laria decided against closing.
"By this time I had to make a decision because it affects the high school buses," he said. "I made that decision not to have a delayed opening, which in hindsight I regret. It's a judgment call, it's not an opinion. These are judgment calls made on the basis of information."
Laria said he took full responsibility for the decision. As weather conditions worsened that day, after-school activities were cancelled.
The superintendent acknowledged the frustration felt by parents who disagree with a given decision, ending with a story from his time in another school district.
"One person called me up and was so angry. I tried to explain the reasoning," Laria said. "The person said to me, 'You don't ever have to worry about having hemorrhoids because you are a perfect [expletive deleted]' and hung up on me."
The meeting's attendees broke into laughter.
"Well I wasn't going to say that," joked the parent who posed the question.