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VIEWPOINT: To close, or not to close? That is the question

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With the winter break that is already underway comes the eventual decision-making about weather-related closures. Unlike many districts across the state, until this past weekend, we escaped much of the bad weather issues that cause schools to delay or cancel school.

Closing school due to weather is one of the more difficult and controversial things that a superintendent undertakes. The first consideration when determining if we should close is the safety of our students. How safe the roads are to travel and our ability to plow our parking lots is always subject to interpretation. I know if I close schools or decide to stay open on cold or snowy mornings, some will be unhappy with the decision I make. This message is intended to inform families how the decision is made and what factors are considered when severe weather strikes.

As the superintendent, I am charged with ultimately making the decisions regarding all school closings and/or schedule changes. Decisions are made in consultation with other staff. I may also consult with city personnel and other metropolitan school districts as appropriate. Our goal is to make the decision on closing school or delaying the start of school as early as possible. If I can, I will make the decision as early as possible or by 5:30 a.m. At the first sign of severe winter weather, we begin monitoring the forecast and local road conditions. We weigh the amount of snow that has fallen; the forecast for continued accumulation; the ability to clear our parking lots and school walkways; the drivability of the roadways; the ability of our busses to start and our drivers to get into work; and the safety of our students in getting to the bus stops. We will be on the phone and assessing all factors throughout the night until a decision can be reached.

In the event of a school closing or delay, our district's Communications Department will communicate the decision through a variety of sources. We will first share information through the automated calling system with all staff and families in the district. The information is posted on the district website, the staff intranet, and all Twin Cities TV stations, as well as the district's cable channel 15.

Late starts and early dismissals are inherently difficult for many parents and programs. I plan to use the two-hour delay where possible and will do our best to keep these to a minimum. I would request that all families have a contingency plan for their children in the event of school delays or closings. Elementary families are encouraged to have a plan on file with the school so that staff will know how to direct their children in these situations.

The decision to cancel after-school and evening activities will be made by 3 p.m. and will not necessarily be tied to a school closing. The principal of an individual school in conjunction with the assistant superintendent may decide to cancel K-12 after-school or evening activities due to existing or predicted weather conditions even if such activities are not canceled district wide.

In the event of an early dismissal or cancellation of evening events, those involved in activities will be contacted when possible. If notification isn't as quick as you may need for your particular event, please call the organizer of your function to ensure you have the most up to date information.

The district website has weather-related closure information available at: www.sowashco.org/parents/school-closing-information. Parents are reminded to have a backup plan, to help ensure their children are dressed for the weather, and also know that as a parent they can make the best decision for their child. If that means keeping them home because they are walkers and not able to access a ride to school, that is your discretion as the parent.

I hope we do not have to face the decision to close or delay school during the upcoming winter months. I also hope our severe weather comes on the weekends and gives us plenty of snow allowing us time to admire, play, snowmobile and ski. If that does not happen, we will be prepared to make the best decision possible for our students and staff.

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