January 20, 2005

Inclement Weather Makes For Tough Decisions For School Administrators

For most school kids, it’s a dream come true to wake up to several inches of snow and learn that classes have been canceled for the day. But for administrators it can be a nightmare trying to make the decision whether or not to have school.

“It is one of those types of decisions where it is easy to second guess your judgment a few hours later when the sun comes out,” said Scotland County R-I Superintendent Dave Shalley. “I still believe it is better to be wrong and err on the side of caution when the kids’ safety is at issue.”

The SCR-I School District was put to the task as students returned from the Christmas holiday. Just one day into the second semester, administrators were forced to dismiss school early on January 4. Classes were then canceled on the next two days due to the weather.

When conditions arise when school already is in session, the administrators can and will dismiss school early like they did last Tuesday.

“As long as we are here for three hours it counts as a day of attendance,” Shalley said. “If the weather is bad enough we can and will dismiss before that but generally we try to make it through lunch and let out at 1:15 p.m.”

The following day, classes were canceled by administrators early Wednesday morning. On a typical day like this Robertson hits the streets about 4:00 a.m.. His first stop is the Missouri Department of Transportation maintenance shed.

“Usually there are two or three guys there that have been out clearing the roads and they can give me a quick idea of what we are looking at as far as road conditions,” Robertson stated.

One of the most difficult parts of deciding the fate of that day’s school, is the varying conditions that can be experienced across the county. The north part of the district could be experiencing terrible weather while southern patrons could have perfect conditions.

Conditions were bad enough during the three-day stretch at the start of January that administrators went ahead and called classes off for Thursday on Wednesday night.

“We’ve probably only done that a half a dozen times, but it was obvious that conditions weren’t going to improve enough to allow us to get students to school safely,” Robertson said. “Normally we try to wait until the morning and see what it’s has done. We try not to do anything based solely on forecasts.”

The conditions broke by Friday, January 7 and school resumed. But the icy conditions have forced the district to switch bus routes to hard surfaces only.

“We started running blacktops only on Tuesday because of the ice,” said SCR-I Transportation Director Dennis Robertson.

The administrators indicated they will make every effort to return to regular routes as soon as conditions allow it.

The SCR-I bus fleet runs 12 separate routes both morning and evening, transporting more than 400 students per run. Annually the district covers more than 200,000 miles.

But bus safety is just one of the considerations administrators make when deciding cancellations.

Robertson said the decision-making process also must consider, not only private vehicle safety as it concerns to transporting students to and from school, but must also contemplate motorists’ safety as it pertains to dealing with the buses stopping on traffic routes.

“A lot of times the buses can get around okay but we have to think about motorists coming up on a bus while it is stopped unloading or loading students,” Robertson stated.

He also pointed out that with roughly 400-450 students riding the bus each day that still leaves 200 other kids that are getting back and forth to school in private vehicles.

It is this number that plays a significant part in deciding whether to run hard routes or simply to cancel school.

“The roads may be good enough to run the buses on hard surfaces but if the people can’t get their kids to the blacktops to be picked up, then we really need to call off classes for the day,” Shalley said.

The two snow days have eroded all of the scheduled make-up days on the district’s calendar. As part of the approved NEMO telecommunications consortium calendar, SCR-I was in session Monday, January 17. The day was scheduled as a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The second make-up day is May 18th. That day was already on the schedule, but students would have already attained the 174 –day requirement and would not have had to attend class that day until the second snow day occurred.

Any future cancellations will force the school year to be extended beyond May 18. Under the NEMO-Net calendar, Presidents’ Day February 21 as well as spring break March 25-28, may not be used as make-up days.

The NEMO-Net consists of SCR-I, Clark County, Marion County, Lewis County, Knox County, Schuyler County and North Shelby.

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