By Jen Bookhout
The Times-Sentinel school districts cancelled school for two and 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 four to six days factored into school schedules to account for weather and other cancellations, making the decision to close school can be complicated.
Superintendents must weigh all the options when considering cancellations. In the winter, factors such as snow and ice, wind chills and road conditions take priority in decision making.
“On days like that, when the weather is that cold, the other issue we have to weigh is double bus routes,” Goddard Superintendent Justin Henry said. “We ask if we can stay close to on schedule with double looping the buses.”
Double looping the buses, or having them run their routes twice, depends on whether the roads are clear enough to allow buses to stay on schedule, as well as outside temperatures. Unpassable roads and delayed buses can leave students standing out in the cold for too long if the district is not careful, a possibility that weighs heavy on administrators’ minds.
“We do not want to face any parent if something were to happen to a student that could have been prevented,” Cheney Superintendent David Grover said.
In Clearwater, Superintendent Mike Roth checks out the road conditions himself to ensure he can make an educated decision.
“I drive the roads to see what it’s like, not just in town, but also the county roads,” Roth said.
After the cancellation decisions have been made, extracurricular activities often have to be rescheduled as well. While most athletic schedules have make-up days built in already, sometimes it can be difficult to get games rescheduled before post-season.
Cheney USD 268
• Five days built into schedule for weather delays and cancellations
• Used three days this school year
• Closed Feb. 4-6
Renwick USD 267
• Six days built into schedule for weather delays and cancellations
• Used four days this school year
• Closed Jan. 2 and Feb. 4-6
Clearwater USD 264
• Four days built into schedule for weather delays and cancellations
• Used three days this school year
• Closed Feb. 4-5 and Feb. 10
Goddard USD 265
• School district monitors hours for each building; additional time is built into school schedules to allow for weather delays and cancellations
• Used three days so far this year
*Closed Feb. 4-6
Maintenance crews in all four districts worked long hours on Wednesday to unbury all of the school parking lots. In weather conditions like last week, it can take 15-20 hours to make the parking lots and walkways safe and accessible.
“The city does a tremendous job clearing the streets,” Grover said. “And maintenance did a tremendous job with clearing everything.”
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, but that never makes the decision process easy.
However, not 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.
The Cheney, Renwick and Goddard school districts closed for three days last week, while Clearwater was closed for two. Additionally, Clearwater was the only district of the four to close on Monday.