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Inclement weather causes headaches for school superintendents deciding whether to close doors

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news Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

By all accounts, Tuesday's snowstorm was a tough one to call.

When weather forecasters predict a storm, area school superintendents and transportation supervisors have the difficult task of determining the timing and enormity of Mother Nature's tempest.

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"We transport 1,200 kids," Park Rapids superintendent Glenn Chiodo said. "That's a lot of responsibility. We take it very seriously."

Impending snowfall usually means a relatively sleepless night for school officials, with phone calls resuming long before sunrise.

"It's a miserable decision to make," Nevis superintendent Steve Rassier said of the enormity of the safety issue.

"We make decisions, but the weather changes," Chiodo said. "Tuesday was one of those days."

The Park Rapids School District encompasses 600 square miles, some of which is "wide open spaces, presenting a different set of issues than the east side."

Discussion with transportation supervisor Cindy Leach begins the day before, after review of weather reports and when county plows will hit the road.

Decisions on delays or closures, Chiodo said, are unique to this district, "not because the neighbors are doing it."

But a verdict must be declared early - the first driver hits the road by 6:15 a.m.

"We tell parents, if you have any concerns related to sending kids to school, keep them home. We won't question parents' prerogative."

Rassier was peering out the window at 4 a.m. No snow. An hour later, same scenario. "By 5:45, it got ugly."

He contacted Chiodo who'd decided school would start on schedule, but the day would be abbreviated, depending on snowfall.

"I jumped in my car and headed to town," Rassier said, soon experiencing the "worst driving conditions I've seen this winter. The drive to town convinced me." He'd also heard Menahga was closing.

Two bus drivers who'd already departed were called back. The initial two-hour delay became a cancellation as the storm began to pack a wallop.

"When I started (in 1977) we read it by the ache in our knees," Menahga superintendent Jerry Nesland joked of weather-related school closings.

Today's technology has enhanced forecasting, but "an extraordinary number of scenarios" are taken into consideration when a delay or cancellation is considered, he said.

Nesland and transportation supervisor Don Maninga began talking last week about the impending storm.

Snow storms, he pointed out, vary greatly. "And spring adds a whole new dimension" - including slushy roads that pull vehicles and the possibility of washed out culverts.

"By 4 a.m., we'd made the decision."

Park Rapids has had approximately 10 late starts, early dismissals and cancellations this year.

"Safety is always in the forefront," Chiodo said. "When the weather turns, we adjust. The bus drivers do an unbelievable job. This winter has been insane," he said.

For school officials, the changing of the seasons brings a sigh of relief.

School superintendents face many challenging decisions, Rassier said. "This is one of the toughest.

"I'm excited for spring, Rassier said. "When I won't have to worry."

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