By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Thrown off by Tuesday’s two-hour snow delay, more than one-quarter of Amesbury High School’s student body showed up late for class due to a misunderstanding over when school was actually supposed to start.
On Monday night, in anticipation of forecasts for between 6 and 9 inches of snow, the mayor’s office declared a snow emergency. The school system followed by announcing a two-hour delay for Tuesday morning. That announcement did not include specific start times for any of the schools.
Amesbury was the only community in the region that ended up preemptively delaying school Tuesday. By morning, barely a dusting of snow was on the ground and the roads were clear. But the delay remained in place as announced.
According to students, the widespread assumption was that school would be delayed two hours from when classes normally begin at 8 a.m.
But the problem was that the high school day officially starts at 7:30 a.m., when band, chorus and homeroom are usually held. So students were expected to be at school by 9:30 a.m.
As a result of that discrepancy, 161 students showed up late to school and the line of students waiting to check in at the office at 10 a.m. was so long that it stretched down the hall and out the front door.
Principal Roy Hamond said no students have been issued detentions or suspensions for being late on Tuesday, and that the only action the school took was to record the students who were late, as required by law.
“We have to record for the state that they were tardy,” Hamond said. “If there’s any disciplinary action, it would be for those who are regularly tardy. Any students that were tardy for the first time, there were no consequences except that it goes into the record.”
Hamond said any student with the maximum number of tardy days or absences who was mistakenly late on Tuesday would be looked at on a case-by-case basis. But he added that he didn’t plan on holding a late arrival on Tuesday against students from a disciplinary perspective, especially for those students who arrived by 10 a.m.
Since Tuesday, many parents have criticized school officials for not communicating its snow-delay policies effectively enough. One parent, who asked to remain unnamed, said that having one-quarter of the student body show up late was a clear indicator that the school wasn’t doing a good enough job getting the word out and that no student should be punished as a result.
“This was the school’s fault,” the parent said. “You have (161) kids late; that’s a miscommunication.”
One student shed light on the situation by taking a cellphone picture of the line of tardy students and turning it into a flier with the caption, “You thought you were on time … .” The student went on to post the flier all over the school, but was asked to stop because school officials were concerned that he was using too much school paper.
Hamond said the school has worked to notify parents of its snow-delay policy, but acknowledged that improvements could be made. He said Amesbury High has had the same snow-delay policy for the 12 years he has been with the school. The policy is spelled out in the student handbook and has been communicated regularly through monthly newsletters, he said.
Regardless, he acknowledged that while it’s not unusual for some students to miss the memo and show up late on days when school is delayed due to the weather, the volume of tardy students on Tuesday was far greater than normal. As a result, some measures would need to be explored to help better communicate with families in the future, he said.
One possibility that Hamond suggested was including a note in the school’s notification system that mentions the high school’s 9:30 a.m. start time when two-hour snow delays are announced. Hamond and Superintendent Michele Robinson both said the objective must be to make sure the message is still clear and concise without causing any confusion for the lower grade levels that have different start times.
As far as why so many students showed up late on Tuesday, Hamond speculated that the relative lack of snow delays over the past few years might have been an important factor. He said the last time the current students at Amesbury High had experienced a snow delay could have been when they were in middle school or even elementary school, where delays are based on the start of the day’s first class.
If that was the case, he said he could understand how so many families might make a reasonable assumption that the same was true at the high school.