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Pfeifer discusses weather decision after Friday controversy

February 19, 2014
LITTLETON — Friday's decision to keep town schools on a regular schedule brought complaints from parents. The snowy day led surrounding districts to close, but Littleton Superintendent Keith Pfeifer made the early morning call to keep SAU 84 open. At Monday's school board meeting, Pfeifer discussed the data collection process he uses to make an inclement weather decision.

School board chairwoman Alison Bolt noted the public frustration she heard. She requested that Pfeifer go over his thought process on inclement weather decisions because "there was some consternation about that on Friday."

One distraught parent copied the Courier on an email he sent Pfeifer and school board members on Friday morning. Michael Doucette began his note to Pfeifer by declaring, "I am writing this morning after I have calmed down a bit. I am stunned that you made the decision to have normal school start time today."

Doucette wrote that six inches of snow fell in Littleton before the start of the regular school day. He said a two-hour delay or school closure for Friday would have been preferable "for the safety of the children and staff of our schools." Doucette believed Pfeifer's decision "put every child and staff member who went to school today in jeopardy."

Pfeifer lives in Andover, about 80 miles south of Littleton. He said input from other administrators, the Littleton Highway Department, Berry Transportation, and weather experts help him make the decision on possible school closures. "I try to listen to a lot of resources," Pfeifer said.

The timing for Pfeifer's data gathering begins before 4:30 a.m., he said Monday. Although input from other superintendents is important, he noted that Littleton has more paved roads and a more compact service area that other North Country districts.

Pfeifer also reaches out to Ed Parker, foreman at the highway department. On Friday, Parker had informed Pfeifer that two inches of snow had fallen in Littleton during the early morning. The storm intensified for a time after that.

"The Public Works in Littleton deserve an A+," Pfeifer said. "They work miracles with our roads."

The superintendent had a discussion with Career and Technical Center Director Al Smith at about 4:30 Friday morning, Pfeifer said. He also receives input from Berry Transportation, which owns the school buses the district uses.

Input on weather conditions comes from WMUR and Accuweather, Pfeifer noted.

Regarding the final call to delay or close school during a weather event, Pfeifer concluded, "It is never an easy decision, and I try to weigh everything."

During his Monday comments, Pfeifer mentioned a difficult personal memory. "I may be the only person in this room who has lost a child on the way to school," he said. The child was a foreign exchange student from Finland who died in a car accident when Pfeifer led the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, based in Canaan.

The tragedy has led Pfeifer to be cautious in order to protect students and staff, he said. "Ice bothers me a lot more than snow," Pfeifer added.

No public comments related to Friday's weather decision were made during the board meeting.

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