Largest districts in area stay open

Despite the winter weather advisory issued for Chautauqua County, as well as Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello’s advisory of no unnecessary travel and his inclement weather policy for non-essential county employees, Dunkirk and Fredonia school districts stayed open. The districts were the only two in northern Chautauqua County to open on Wednesday, and two of just four school districts in the entire county. Clymer and Panama schools were also open.

Some were surprised at the districts’ decision to stay open, as many public offices and schools closed, including both Hewes and LoGuidice BOCES locations, Chautauqua County courts, Dunkirk City Court, Jamestown City Court and all three Jamestown Community College campuses.

Multiple Dunkirk parents commented on the OBSERVER’s Facebook page that several Dunkirk teachers could not make it to school, and that students were sitting in the high school auditorium, as there was not enough substitute teacher coverage. Other Dunkirk parents’ comments stated that they chose to keep their children home due to the weather.

In a phone interview with the OBSERVER on Wednesday morning, Dunkirk City Schools Superintendent Dr. James Tracy expressed confidence in the district’s decision to stay open. He confirmed that multiple high school teachers were unable to make it to school; however, he was pleased to report that the weather did not prevent any elementary or middle school teachers from traveling to school on Wednesday.

“We’re making things work for the kids,” he said. “Obviously, any day of education is better than no day. Education is very important, and it’s a decision we don’t take lightly. Superintendents generally start at 3:30 or 4 in the morning on days like today to research the forecast and reach out to the National Weather Center … I got in my vehicle and drove all around at about 5 in the morning in Dunkirk. I got out and walked a few sidewalks, and things seemed fine.”

Tracy considered Wednesday “a pretty mild day,” as the roads and sidewalks were mainly clear and the temperature was above 30 degrees. Speaking of Wednesday, he said, “It was an important decision, but today was a pretty easy one, I thought. You don’t close because your neighbors got 2 feet of snow.”

Temperature, however, is another issue altogether, according to Tracy. “Even if it’s a nice day, if the temperatures are extremely low, like minus 20 or 25 with the windchill factor, we really look at the kids having to walk to school. Probably about half walk, and about half ride the bus. We end up closing a bit more due to temperature, because there’s nothing you can do about that. Road crews can clean up the roads, but we can’t make it warmer.”

Tracy said that Dunkirk City Schools typically close at a warmer temperature than what the state Education Department mandates, mainly because of the number of students who walk.

Jeff Sortisio, superintendent of Fredonia Central Schools, was also confident in the district’s decision to remain open. “On mornings like this, I make contact with the town of Pomfret Highway Superintendent to get his take on the roads, especially the snow plow drivers. Most of those guys have been out for quite awhile,” he explained. “I also discuss the situation with the head of buildings and grounds, and we communicate with other area superintendents. We look at traffic cams on the Thruway, because we are cognizant of where staff is coming from. When all those reports come back fine, we stay open, like we did (Wednesday).”

Sortisio said there were some staff members unable to get to school due to the weather.

“I’m glad they made the decisions that they had to make to stay safe,” he stated. “Overall, the majority of our staff members live in the Dunkirk and Fredonia area, which we do take into consideration. If most of our teachers lived in the south county, I would have had to close today.”