Winter weather process explained

Every year I write an article about the process I use to determine if school will be called late or called off because of inclement weather conditions. I usually get this article out before the first storm hits. With this year’s nice fall, I thought I had more time. I guess I was wrong. 

Technology has definitely had an impact on this decision-making process. There are several factors that come into play, and Mother Nature can be a very fickle partner! Please know that I always try to err on the side of caution. 

Our two biggest concerns are that a bus may stall or quit running and students will have to wait for another bus to arrive and take them to school. Buses are designed better than they used to be and the chances of that happening are much less now than even a few years ago. In addition, communication is also better and we can get to a stranded bus quicker than in the past. On very cold or stormy days, Norby Klimek, our District Transportation Supervisor, has buses waiting to drive a bus to a stranded one if needed. 

The other concern is that we will deliver a child where no one is home. In these situations, it is extremely important that parents establish a plan with each child to address the times when they may return home earlier than usual and communicate that plan with your child’s school. Communication is critical, especially if we have substitute teachers and/or substitute drivers on that day. Please do not make last minute changes during this very busy time. 

It is also important that you update your instant alert numbers if you have not already done so, otherwise you may not be contacted at your place of work or by your cell phone. If you aren’t sure how to do this, please call the school. 

I want to thank Norby and all the Staples-Motley bus drivers. Driving any vehicle in the winter is a challenge, but a bus full of children on our rural roads from November through March, and sometimes beyond, can be a white knuckle kind of job every day! 

The decision-making process to either stay on schedule or close school really begins days before with listening to both the National Weather Service and state and local weather reports. Norby and I will call or text each other several times with updates. Occasionally there is a strong enough warning that I will call a two-hour late start the evening before. However, most of the time there isn’t enough information to make the call that early. 

The process on a weather alert day usually begins between 4-4:30 a.m. Both Norby and I will check the forecast and radar sites to determine the current and forecasted conditions for our area. Norby determines whether the buses will be able to maneuver the roads or can handle the bitterly cold weather efficiently. I also consult with area superintendents. By 4:45 a.m. we will review the updated information provided by the National Weather Service. If the weather is of concern, I almost always go two hours late first. That gives me time to do more consulting with Norby, area superintendents and the radar. 

That scenario played out last week. The forecast had predicted three to five inches on Thursday evening, but we didn’t get any snow until Norby and I were talking at 4:30 a.m. The radar still showed that we were going to continue to get rain, not snow. However, with the forecast predicting a blizzard, we wanted to be cautious to see what was going to happen. I called a two-hour delay; but, within an hour, the radar shifted the snow east and all I really had to do was look outside. 

When considering severe cold weather, it really depends whether it’s going to warm up throughout the day, when the sun will rise and how long the cold snap has lasted. We do adjust to severe cold and are more accustomed to it in February than in December.  

If a decision is made to go two hours late or close, I will immediately send a message to Bonnie Madson, Staples Motley District secretary, and she will send the message via our instant alert system and the media outlets. These include television stations: KMSP, KARE, KSTP and WCCO and their websites. We also post it on our website and Facebook pages. 

There are times when weather conditions deteriorate on a day when students are in school. On this type of day, I carefully monitor conditions with the National Weather Service and consult closely with Norby and area superintendents. If the decision is made to close school early, that message will be broadcast through our instant alert system and on the previously mentioned media outlets. When school is let out early, all after schools activities are automatically canceled. 

We depend on our parents as partners in keeping students safe. We need driveways to be clear. A bus driver will not go into a driveway if he/she determines they will get stuck. We depend on parents to make sure that students are dressed properly for winter weather. If you are struggling with being able to provide adequate winter gear, please contact either your respective school office or your county social services office. We also need parents to make decisions about whether their teenager should drive their own vehicle to school. If the car they are driving is not dependable or the roads are icy, it will be safer to have the teenager ride the bus. It may mean that you will have to pick up your child after a school activity, but at least your child will be safe. 

There may be times when school remains open and you have concerns about your child attending school on that day. It’s important for you to remember that as a parent/guardian you have the right to make the decision about whether or not your child attends school. All we ask is that you notify your child’s school if you choose to keep them home on a day when school is in session. Through that notification, our staff will know that your child is safe. 

As superintendent, I make the final decision as to whether school will be on time, delayed or canceled. As you can see, I do not do it alone and I am very grateful for the partnerships I have with those who help me make each decision. Every situation walks a fine line between making sure our students are safe, but also that students attend school with the least amount of disruption. 


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