For most people in our valley under 18 years of age, school cancelations are the highlight of their week. For working parents, school cancelations can be inconvenient and frustrating, especially when they are unexpected. However you feel when you find out school is cancelled, you probably wonder who made the decision and why?
At -50, a school cancelation decision is easy. The good folks at KCAM call or text me at around 5:45AM and give me the official temperature (normally it is Scott Yahr because for some unknown reason Michelle never gets to announce school cancellations). If, as indicated in Board Policy 6114.4, the temperate is -50 or colder, I give the word to cancel school for the day. While the announcement is being made on-air and on the web, Kathy Gearhart initiates a phone-tree to make sure everyone on staff gets properly notified. Meanwhile, students are either celebrating or going back to sleep, and parents are scrambling to rearrange their day.
A more difficult and subjective scenario happens when the temperature is above -50 but the road conditions are questionable. Here’s how this type of scenario normally transpires:
- First Student mobilizes their fleet of buses based on normal routines;
- Drivers communicate road conditions (often before the plows are out) to First Student manager, Teri Dugas;
- Based on her own observations, AK DOT 511 information and driver reports, Teri decides whether First Student will transport students;
- If necessary, Teri notifies the district that First Student will not transport students due to road conditions;
- The Superintendent then determines if the CRSD will conduct classes as scheduled without the students that normally ride the bus or ask families to transport students in their own vehicles;
- Usually, if the buses are not running, school is canceled;
- A call is made to KCAM (again, normally to Scott Yahr who happens to be working that morning) to begin announcing “school is closed.”
- The district’s phone-tree for staff is initiated;
- CRSD staff begin posting on social media and notifying other media outlets;
- Tammy Van Wyhe immediately tries to reconcile bucket loads of schedules and requirements in order to propose workable make-up days;
- Kathy prepares paperwork to submit to EED and the Board of Education;
- Celebrations begin taking place in homes around the valley as parents notify their children that school has been canceled.
Here are some complicating factors in school cancelation decisions:
- Road conditions vary throughout the district. Weather and road conditions in Slana are often very different than in Kenny Lake;
- It is impractical and inefficient to conduct class with over 50% of the students absent;
- Many of our bus routes are interconnected;
- No one wants students in danger;
- No one wants to pressure parents to transport students in hazardous road conditions.
Our district covers a huge area. Even when it is -50 below at KCAM, it might only be -40 in Kenny Lake. Conversely, it might be -55 in Slana and only -30 in Glennallen. Road conditions also vary. It is not like Atlanta, if it snows a 1/4 inch in one part of the city, it normally snows that much in another part, thus warranting the hoarding of bread, milk and the cancelation of school.
There will always be second guessers when we cancel school due to road conditions. Folks will say, “I drove to work and the roads were fine.” And, by 8:30AM, sometimes the roads are fine. Unfortunately, some of our students have very long bus rides. First Student is picking up their first riders at 7:13AM.
Sometimes school cancelations are inconvenient. Being concerned with student safety is never inconvenient. One bus accident due to hazardous road conditions and we’ll all be second guessing the decision to put buses on the roads.
For many reasons, we do not like to cancel school. For one very important reason, we will err on the side of caution when there is unusual weather and potentially dangerous driving conditions.
If you have a comment or suggestion about school closures, feel free to call me at the office at 7:30AM when school is canceled. Unlike most everyone else, I can never go back to sleep after all the commotion!