By Jen Bookhout
The Haysville School District cancelled school for three days last week in response to a snowstorm stretching across a large part of the state.
Snow accumulation ranged from six to 10 inches in regions across South Central Kansas on Tuesday. Additionally, Wednesday and Thursday served up painful wind chill temperatures in most of the area.
With only five days factored into school schedules to account for weather and other cancellations, making the decision to close school can be complicated.
Haysville Superintendent John Burke said snow accumulation, extreme cold, ice and road conditions all factor into making the decision. However, school districts often err on the side of caution.
“We’ll take the days off,” Burke said. “Safety is the main issue. We can always make up the time.”
Haysville USD 261
• Five days built into schedule for weather delays and cancellations
• Used three days this year
• Closed Feb. 4-6
Oftentimes, road conditions can be misleading. Main roads may appear drivable, but secondary and country roads may be more treacherous. The school district must also consider those children in outlying areas. Unpassable roads and delayed buses can leave students standing out in the cold for too long if the district is not careful.
“The most important thing is the safety of students and staff,” Burke said. “We try to have school when we can, but when we judge it to be too dangerous, we will call it off.”
While students and teachers stayed off the roads last week, the district’s maintenance crews were hard at work clearing parking lots and sidewalks in preparation for a return to school.
“It’s a monumental task to get everything cleared,” Burke said.
Maintenance crews worked all day, sometimes even for 12 hours to ensure the lots and walkways would be safe for the students’ return. Additionally, they kept an eye on the buildings to ensure the heat was working and everything was in proper order while the buildings were empty.
Weather cancellations can wreak havoc on extracurricular schedules as well. Oftentimes, athletic schedules have make-up dates accounted for before the seasons begin, Burke said. But other extracurricular activities can be a hassle to reschedule.
Additionally, snow days can affect the pocketbooks of hourly paid employees in the school district. If they aren’t working, they aren’t getting paid. Some districts allow these employees to use vacation or leave pay to cover these days.
In general, Kansans know to expect rapid changes in weather that may cause delays or cancellations, so many prepare ahead of time. School districts often communicate with each other when making decisions on such cancellations, Burke explained.
“No one wants to be the lone ranger and be the only one who’s closed, or the only one who’s open,” Burke said.
That’s not to say all school districts will make the same decisions each time, as was seen in closing discrepancies across the region last week, and again on Monday when another two to five inches fell across South Central Kansas. Haysville schools remained open after Monday’s snowfall.