Weather-related school closings always a tough decision

Corey Lunn

My Thanksgiving break was spent enjoying time with family, getting caught up on home projects, beginning our holiday shopping and watching a few movies and football games.

It was also a time for updating ski equipment, getting the sleds down from the attic and watching the snow begin to gather on the landscape. Whether we like it or not, these are all signs that winter is approaching and with it the possibility of inclement weather.

Don’t get me wrong — being a lifelong Minnesotan I have learned to embrace (or more accurately “put up”) with the cold weather and snow. And even though I enjoy the changing seasons and snow-inspired recreation, since becoming a school superintendent the possibility of having to make difficult decisions to close schools has diminished my appreciation for winter.

The reason is simply that no matter what the decision might be — to have school or to close school — there will always be unhappy people. Regardless, difficult decisions must sometimes be made to ensure the safety of our students and staff.

Unlike many of the decisions I make in the course of my job, the decision to close school often is made quickly and without much data to review or input from stakeholders. There are no magic numbers regarding temperatures, snow amounts, wind chill readings or other factors to help guide this decision. The large area our school district covers, more than 150 square miles from Afton to Marine on St. Croix, makes this even more difficult. Conditions might be fairly nice in one end of the district and very bad with unplowed roads and dangerous weather in another end.

If bad weather is predicted, I watch the weather forecasts throughout the night and early morning. By about 4 a.m., I am in contact with our assistant superintendent and operations director, a bus company representative, local law enforcement officials and city officials as needed. During this time roads are driven and we all discuss the status of the weather and conditions across the school district. Any communications and updates that I can provide to others also take place during this time. I also contact superintendents in neighboring school districts to share information, and most often reach a joint decision. This decision is made as early as possible.

Should we decide that our schools will be closed or school hours will be altered, all of our families will receive an automated phone message from the district. Parents who have shared an email address with us will also receive the message by email. This message will be sent as soon as possible after a decision is made.

If closing schools for the day, our goal is to have the message reach families by 6 a.m. whenever possible. It is rare to delay the start of a school day as this often results in the most disruptions for families. If classes are canceled for the entire day, all regular after-school and Community Education classes are also canceled. More details and information for our students at Valley Crossing School, school events and activities, including athletics can be found at www.stillwaterschools.org under “parent and student resources.”

School closing information is also available via WCCO-AM 830 radio and the local television stations – Channels 4, 5, 9 and 11. Any information is also posted on our district website, www.stillwaterschools.org, as well as school websites, and updated on the school district’s weather hotline at 651-351-8099. Or stay connected on Facebook and Twitter (@stillwater834 or @CoreyLunn834) to receive the latest updates.

Ultimately the choice to send a child to school belongs with parents. I am a strong believer that the parent ultimately has the best information regarding the weather and road conditions at their home. Parents always have the option during inclement weather to keep their children at home. There will be no school penalty and/or consequences for this choice. I only ask that parents make sure to communicate with their children’s school their choice in this manner.

The upcoming winter season can be an enjoyable and joyous time of the year. It can also be a time of bad weather and reason for caution. I will continue to do all I can to make the best decisions for the safety of all our students, families and staff across the St. Croix Valley.

 

Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at lunnc@stillwater.k12.mn.us or by phone at 651-351-8301. Questions can also be sent by mail to Superintendent, Stillwater Area Public Schools, 1875 South Greeley St., Stillwater, MN 55082. Register for Stillwater Area Public Schools E-News at www.stillwater.k12.mn.us/subscribe.

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