Many factors go into decision to close, delay schools

By: KRISTINA IODICE AND CAROL MCGRAW
February 1, 2011
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photo - Sylvia Canty bundles up to walk home through downtown Colorado Springs on her way home on Tuesday, February 1, 2011.  Photo by JERILEE BENNETT,  THE GAZETTE
Sylvia Canty bundles up to walk home through downtown Colorado Springs on her way home on Tuesday, February 1, 2011. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

Every time school officials close or delay classes because of weather conditions they get grief.

For proof, one need look no further than the comments left on school closure stories at gazette.com.

Despite what some parents seem to believe, however, district superintendents and transportation managers say they don’t just look out the window when deciding to close campuses as they did Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

They tap multiple weather reports, send employees out to experience road conditions, and talk to other officials.

And snow isn’t the deciding factor.

Robin Adair, spokeswoman for Lewis-Palmer School District 38, said temperature matters as much as snowfall.

For example, it’s difficult to run buses at 10 degrees below zero, she said, and frostbite is a danger for kids. And at 20 below, the snow plows don’t run, so the roads aren’t cleared.

High winds, another factor, can be vicious for kids walking to school or waiting for a bus.

Ellicott School District 22 Superintendent Terry Ebert said the short walk to feed his horses Tuesday morning was grueling.

“I had on my Carhartt jacket and a scarf over my face, but when I faced the wind it immediately burned my face.”

He said there are a lot of “ifs” school officials must consider.

“On some bus routes it could take a half-hour or more to reach a stranded bus,” Ebert said.

Driving the roads to see how weather is affecting specific areas is crucial, said Hanover School District 28 Superintendent Paul McCarty. The district called a snow day in December when other districts did not because rain had turned local roads into sheets of ice.

McCarty predicted midday Tuesday that District 28 would delay or cancel school Wednesday due to the bitterly cold temperatures. Meteorologists forecast a high of 2 to 7 degrees Wednesday with a morning wind chill of 33 to 44 degrees below zero.

District 11 spokeswoman Elaine Naleski expected officials to decide Tuesday evening whether classes would be held Wednesday. With temperatures warming a bit, she predicted a delayed start.

Academy School District 20 has a 5 a.m. deadline to notify families and district employees of delays or closures, said spokeswoman Nanette Anderson. Conditions can change overnight, so the district almost always waits until the morning to decide, Anderson said.

Naleski said District 11 tries to decide on delays or closures before the 10 p.m. TV news shows. However, the final call is made by 4:30 a.m., even if the coldest temperature might be later in the day.

“We try to err on the side of caution,” Naleski said.

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