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Viewpoint: Closings, delayed start time decisions based on crucial information

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opinion Woodbury, 55125
Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

I recently heard the weatherman say the words "snow flurries" for the first time this season. With the first snowflakes of the winter, many of our students begin paying close attention to the radio or television screens hoping that District 834 -- Stillwater Area Public Schools -- will be among those listed as closed. As superintendent, the thought of snowflakes means the possibility of some tough decisions regarding school closings, late starts and early dismissals.

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The overriding concern in making a decision to close school for weather-related reasons is the safety of our students, staff and others in the community. The decision to close our schools because of winter weather is based upon some basic, but very crucial information: the ability of school buses to travel the roads safely, and the conditions bus riders will face while waiting for the bus.

In the very early morning hours, transportation staff travel some of the roads in our district to check on their condition. Road conditions, weather reports and forecasts are then discussed with representatives from law enforcement, the bus company and school officials from neighboring districts. These travels and conversations often take place earlier than 4 a.m. on the day of the poor weather conditions.

After taking into account the information from the various sources, I make the final decision on school closings or late start times. We try to provide notification of school closings or changes in start times by 6 a.m. to radio and television stations.

This year we will have a new way to notify families of school closings or changes in start times. With Connect-ED, our new messaging service, we will be able to send a personal, voice message to the home of every student. This message can be sent within minutes of the decision to close school.

In addition, the following stations will be notified of any closings or changes in start time for Stillwater Area Public Schools: KARE Channel 11, KMSP/FOX Channel 9, KSTP Channel 5 and WCCO Channel 4 and 830 AM Radio.

Notification of school closings or changes in start times can also be obtained from the district's hotline at (651) 351-8099 and on our website, www.stillwater.k12.mn.us. Subscribers to the district's E-News Bureau will also receive an email notification of school closings or changes in start times. People can sign up for the district's E-New Bureau service on our website.

If classes are cancelled for an entire day, all regular after-school and Community Education activities are also cancelled. This includes athletics, Adventure Club, ECFE, adult and youth classes, and facility use. If a weather emergency occurs late in the afternoon and the regular school day has not been affected, evening Community Education activities or athletic competitions may still be cancelled.

Specific announcements regarding these activities will be made on the stations listed above and via the district's communication systems.

Rarely is a decision made to delay the start of the school day. Changes in school start or ending times have the potential to cause a lot of confusion for everyone. If a decision is made to delay the start of school, all starting times will be delayed for two hours. However, even with the announcement of late start times, parents should still listen for further announcements, as subsequent information garnered on weather and road conditions may justify closing schools.

If a school has a delayed start time due to inclement weather, Adventure Club staff members will attempt to get to the site as close to a normal opening time as possible. You must call your Adventure Club site prior to leaving home to make sure that staff members have arrived and are in the building. Adventure Club program sites will remain open until the start of the school day.

Even more rare is the decision to release students early from school. Although it is not a normal practice for us to release students early from school due to weather, we still encourage parents to have a plan in place should their child need to come home early from school.

Closing school or making changes to school start and end times is never a popular decision. In every situation there will be some who criticize school officials for keeping our schools open, while others will criticize us for closing them. Be assured that my decisions on weather-related school closings and changes in start times will not be made lightly.

Ryskoski is School District 834 superintendent and can be reached at ryskoskik@stillwater.k12.mn.us.

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