Many factors considered for closing schools during inclement weather

By Hope Lecchi - [email protected]

By Hope Lecchi

[email protected]

With temperatures in 50s, the last weekend in January it may be had to think that area administrators are thinking about snow days.

During the winter months, snow and ice and below freezing temperatures are things that are never far from their thoughts.

“The decision to cancel school is one of the most difficult ones that I have to make,” Superintendent of Sedalia Schools 200 Brad Pollitt said. “The safety and welfare of the students and the staff is always my number one concern.

“You certainly can’t make the decision solely based on a prediction of what might be,” Pollitt added. “That does factor into the decision, but it also has to be based on what is in front of you at the time as well.”

The decision to cancel school rests with Pollitt but there are other individuals who help in the decision.

Pollitt said mornings when the forecast has a prediction of inclement weather, he is up at four a.m. checking local weather radar from multiple sources.

Pollitt, Connie Colffelt, director of the First Student Transportation Service, Richie Simmons, head of maintenance for Sedalia 200 and assistant superintendent Steve Triplett drive the bus routes to check on the road conditions.

Once he has heard from those individuals on the road conditions, Pollitt places a call to Pettis County and Sedalia Director of Emergency Management, Dave Clippert, for an update on the area conditions and to receive the latest forecast.

That call is made between 5 and 5:15 a.m.

“If I have to make the decision to call off school, I need to have it made by 5:30,” Pollitt said. “Our first busses leave between 5:45 and 5:50 a.m. so the decision has to be made before they head out on the routes.

“If the conditions warrant it we will make the decision the night before,” Pollitt added. “But there are so many factors that have to be considered.”

Those factors can include the amount of precipitation, snowfall or ice accumulation, the radar predictions, and the expected temperature.

“Anytime the temperature or wind chill temperature is 10 degrees below zero or lower we will do a delayed start or possibly cancel all together depending on what other circumstances we are facing,” Pollitt said. “We have to take into consideration the fact that some of our students will be walking on sides walks that may or may not be treated and that they will have to wait in those temperatures at bus stops.”

Sedalia 200 has five rural bus routes that are factored into the decision as well.

“Often people question why, if the main streets look clear why we cancel school,” Pollitt said. “There are a lot of side streets and subdivisions as well as those rural routes that have to be considered.”

With every decision, Pollitt said one of the most important factors is consistency.

“Parents like to know what to expect,” Pollitt said. “You can’t call off school one day, and then turn around a week later and not when the conditions seem to be the exact same because parents have to make plans whenever school is canceled.”

No matter the reasons for the cancellation of school, those missed days have to be made up, to a point, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

School districts are required to not only be in session a set number of days, but they also must be in attendance a minimum day length and minimum hours of attendance.

The following rules are taken from DESE’s website regarding their inclement weather policy, which is law for any school district receiving state aid.

“Severe weather increases the possibility of an early release from school. Section 160.041.1 RSMo, states that a minimum school day consists of at least three hours (except districts establishing less than a 174 school calendar which require four hours) in which the pupils are under the guidance and direction of teachers in the teaching process. Districts must meet both the minimum day requirement and the minimum hour requirement as dictated by their respective calendar,” the DESE website states.

Section 171.033.4, RSMo goes on to explain that,” “Inclement weather” for purposes of this section shall be defined as ice, snow, extreme cold, flooding or tornado, but such term shall not include excessive heat.”

According to policy, a district is required to make up the first seven days missed under the inclement weather section of the statute.

After the seventh day it is an every other day situation.

For example, if a district misses eight days, they do not have to make the eighth day up, it is classified as “forgiven.”

The ninth day is made up; day 10 is forgiven; the 11 day missed must be made up, but day 12 is forgiven.

The 13 day is required to be made up but all days past 14 that are missed for inclement weather are forgiven by the state as long as the district has made up 10 days.

“I think all schools build and prioritize make-up days into their school calendars,” Pollitt said. “If they are just added on to the end of the school year, there is not a break between the end of the regular session and summer school,

“With that said we also know that there have to be some breaks scheduled throughout the school year for both the students and staff,” he added. “It can make for a very long winter if those breaks aren’t scheduled.”

Pollitt said that three days after Christmas break are considered off limits by many districts and typically are not used as make up days.

“Most schools schedule Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day and Good Friday as days that won’t be used as make-up days.” Pollitt said. “There may be some schools that do use those days, but I can’t think of many who do.

“There has only been one time since the decision to call off school has been mine that I have called off school solely based on a weather forecast and that was a few years ago when we 17 inches in one day,” Pollitt said. “You hope you never have to miss school but you always have to be ready in the event it becomes necessary.”

Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484

Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484

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