Canceling school serious decision

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]

Ice is cleared from the street following the ice storm that hit Fulton County last week.

Ice is cleared from the street following the ice storm that hit Fulton County last week.

Drew Stambaugh | Fulton County Expositor

It’s not easy, sometimes, for Fulton County school superintendents to call for cancellation due to weather. But all agree that the safety of students and staff is foremost on their minds when making the decision.

Swanton schools superintendent Chris Lake said that’s his first priority.

“The decision to stay open or close is typically not an easy one. In the end, I always try to keep student and staff safety at the forefront of every decision,” he said.

The district has canceled six school days this academic year, none prior to Jan. 23. The final decision to close comes from Lake, who first consults with the district’s transportation supervisor and other school districts. Lake will drive district roads to check on plowing and salting, road traction, snow and ice, and visibility.

“Primarily, I have to decide if it is safe for the buses to be on the road. If the answer in my mind is no, then we close,” he said.

He said the state’s transition to school hours allows for more calamity days. If Swanton schools close beyond the number granted in an academic year, students’ days are extended by 30 minutes each until the missed time is caught up.

Because, for example, the district high school is scheduled for 99 hours beyond what the state mandates, “This gives us plenty of time to work with before we would need to make up any time,” Lake said.

And there are always people who second-guess his decision to close on a given day – often when the weather takes a nice turn just hours after the cancellation. Lake said that happens often after a particularly foggy morning.

“What people need to remember is that I have to make a decision prior to the buses rolling out, and this typically happens at least an hour before any start time,” he said. “I have had situations where I close school on a fog day…and by 9 o’clock the fog is gone, but at least the buses were not out driving in dangerous conditions, picking up students.”

Swanton schools closed eight times during the 2017-18 academic year. For the record, that included a fall day wracked by fog.

According to Wauseon schools policy, the decision to cancel or delay school during inclement weater is taken seriously.

“The safety of over 2,000 students and staff members is affected by these decisions,” it says.

Superintendent Larry Brown said the school district has used just under 40 of the 45 allowable missed hours of school this academic year. Beyond 45 hours, time is made up in full-day increments.

Brown and the district’s transportation supervisor drive area roads, and the school district gathers weather information and shares conditions with other county school districts, before deciding whether to cancel or delay classes.

“We attempt to make these decisions in a timely manner to allow parents and students to make necessary arrangements,” the district policy says.

In the Fayette school district, 10 days have been canceled this year. That’s slightly up from last school year, but nothing like during the horrendous winter of 2014-15, Superintendent Erik Belcher said.

He ultimately decides whether to close the schools, based primarily on student safety. He said deciding to close comes after gathering information about existing conditions from multiple sources.

Factors can also include weather-related issues the district buildings may have with electricity, water, heat, and mechanics.

Belcher said several years ago Fayette schools added time onto their days from the beginning of the academic year, thus increasing instruction time. He said that practice can be beneficial toward days lost to weather.

What’s difficult is making the decision to close when the weather is simply unpredictable, he said. That has led in the past to commutes during bad conditions.

“Even the weather men and women are sometimes wrong, but by closing that window of time we have a better grasp of the situation,” Belcher said. “If we have solid information we try to make that decision as soon as possible for our families. I feel we are respectful of family needs and planning, and our parents know our primary interest and focus is the safety of their children.”

Pike-Delta-York Superintendent Ted Haselman and the school district’s transportation director drive area roads at 5 a.m. or earlier on questionable weather days.

“Ultimately, we feel we make the best decision with the information we have at that time for our district,” Haselman said. “Student safety is always, and will continue to be, the main topic of our discussions when these decisions are made.”

P-D-Y’s decision is not always the same as in neighboring districts. Haselman attributes that to considering weather strictly within school district’s boundaries. “Our conditions may be better or worse than our neighboring districts,”he said.

Additionally, P-D-Y’s first bus usually leaves the district’s garage later than those in other districts. By then precarious driving conditions may have changed due to nature or clean-up, allowing for a decision change.

Haselman said the balance between deciding on a calamity day or providing the best educational experience possible for students can be challenging.

“Student safety is of utmost importance. Transportation to school on district-owned school buses and students driving themselves to school both play a part in these decisions,” he said.

Ice is cleared from the street following the ice storm that hit Fulton County last week. is cleared from the street following the ice storm that hit Fulton County last week. Drew Stambaugh | Fulton County Expositor

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.