Declaring a snow day not an easy process
Every year, almost as sure as the cold, winter weather conditions have the ability to cause a school district to alter its schedule by either starting late, letting out early or cancelling the school day altogether.
Kids won’t care, but many parents want to be more aware of just what exactly goes into the process of declaring a “snow day” for Park Rapids Area Schools.
When weather forces pertinent decisions to be made, Park Rapids superintendent Lance Bagstad makes the final decision for his school district.
And although the decision ultimately rests with Bagstad, it is not a decision he makes based solely on his own judgment.
“Typically if you look at the procedures when it comes to adjusting a school day, I think pretty much every school district goes through the same thing. We will typically start having conversations about 5 a.m. to plan out where we are in the decision making process and what we plan to do,” Bagstad said.
“I talk with transportation director Cindy Leech, who plays a key role also; she has lines of communication open to county officials, so we know when the plows will be going out and stopping. We further discuss safety precautions with local law enforcements and gather what they are saying about road conditions. I will also talk with neighboring superintendents about what they are going to be doing and we collaborate as well. There is a lot of communicating across the board when we try and make these decisions. With all factors considered, only then do we make a decision,” Bagstad said.
Once all resources have been exhausted, the ultimate decision is not one that Bagstad takes lightly.
“It’s not an easy decision, but every time we do make a call – whether it’s a late start, early out or a cancellation – I do have a lot of factors to consider. All superintendents take these decisions very seriously,” Bagstad said.
“We realize that anytime we change our schedule, that it impacts lots of other families’ schedules. When we close school two hours early, that means all of our kids and their families will have to make adjustments in their lives to accommodate the change. We always want to make sure that we keep the safety of our students and families first when we do make the call,” Bagstad said.
“Typically a school doesn’t want to be out there on an island when either making a call or not. We try and work together with other local schools to best decide what is going to be good for our area and our kids.”
Decisions can often be made on a temporary basis when further assessment of a situation is still in progress.
“We always want to have school. We want to keep things on schedule. The more normalcies we have in our schedule, the more it helps our students and their families, because people work. If it were an absolute blizzard where nobody is going anywhere – only then is the call easy. But if moms and dads are still going to work, we have to be more careful,” Bagstad said.
“Whether we go two hours late or an early out, it all kind of depends on timing. For example, if wind chills are -30 degrees, we really don’t want kids out at bus stops when the sun hasn’t even come up yet. So we might say, ‘Let’s have a two-hour delay and that gives us a little bit of time to reassess the situation when it’s light out,’” Bagstad said.
Conditions can also vary throughout the course of a day, warranting careful consideration and possible adjustment.
“For example, last week we knew this weather system was coming in. There were a couple schools that were two hours late Wednesday morning, but it really didn’t develop until later Wednesday night. We were up monitoring the storm and making phone calls – we don’t get a lot of sleep because we’re always trying to figure out what’s going on with the weather and make the best arrangements possible for the next day.”
According to Bagsatd, monetary factors of the district play only a minimal role in the decision process.
“There really aren’t a lot of monetary losses; those factors typically aren’t heavily considered. We are required by state law to have 173 student contact days in school a year. If you call school off, then you have to make that day up sometime. Instead of having a vacation day, it then becomes a school day to make up the day we missed,” Bagstad said, “but I always think about safety first. Safety is more of an issue than money.”
Once decisions are finally made, focus then shifts towards awareness.
“We contact the local radio and television stations; it will be on the website and Mr. Johnson will send out a school reach message that telephones parents to inform them of the decision. The sooner is better so we can make sure to get the word out and make sure that people know,” Bagstad said.
“It’s all kind of an intricate web that all comes back to communicating. We don’t want to jeopardize anybody’s safety. There are all kinds of variables involved, but typically what I like to look for is if we are in severe weather warnings, then we really need to begin to think hard; that’s really a good indicator.”
After the final moment of decision, proper precaution lends a hand to foresight in securing a safe school district.
“We just want to make sure we are making the best decision possible for the majority of our kids and that they’re going to be safe. Sometimes you second guess yourself, but typically everything works out when safety is the key concern,” Bagstad said.