November 29, 2022

I hope that everyone enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  Although we can certainly receive bad weather in October and November, I usually don’t consider winter’s formal arrival until after Thanksgiving.  Well, here we are and the lawns are a mottled green and white signifying that the winter season is officially upon us.  Which leads to the topic of school closures.

Closing school ranks near the top of decisions that superintendents don’t like to make.  I have been making those decisions for over a decade now and I have seldom made one where everyone was happy and in agreement.  I believe I have made good decisions the vast majority of the time, but I have also made some bad ones.  I have canceled school only to see a beautiful, sunny winter’s day unfold.  Then there have been times where I have not canceled school thinking things would be fine, only to see the roads and weather conditions turn nasty.  

There is a Minnesota axiom that states, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute and it will surely change.”  That’s been my experience.  As Minnesota rural school districts typically cover many miles, the weather can vary greatly from one location in the district to another.  We have a lot of open country in this area and it doesn’t take much wind or snow to turn good weather into a ground blizzard.  

What goes into making a decision on closing or delaying school?  The safety of the students and staff is the first priority.  This sounds simple, but it is a little complicated.  Living in Minnesota, we seldom see perfect road conditions during the heart of winter.  It is likely that even during the best days, most of us encounter some degree of snow and ice on our daily commute.  There is always some degree of hazard.  If we waited for perfect roads, we would close school until April!  The cutoff comes somewhere between a normal winter snowfall and a point where things turn dangerous.  

What information goes into making the decision?  The first indicator is the forecast from the National Weather Service out of Grand Forks.  This is considered our best and most reliable source of weather information.  They are very good about sending out alerts and updates and I believe they are quite accurate most of the time.  The second indicator is tied to our partnership with Ottertail Coaches.  As our transportation provider, we place a lot of value on their feedback regarding road conditions.

If I am certain weather conditions will be unsafe for travel, a decision will be made during the evening preceding the storm event as a courtesy to our families and staff.  If the forecast is less sure, then the most accurate information is afforded by waiting until the morning to make the call.  

Mike Clark, from Ottertail Coaches, sends drivers out early in the morning on days when poor winter driving conditions may be present.  Those drivers then provide Mike with first hand information.  Mike and I typically talk between 5-5:30 a.m., with a goal of making a decision no later than 5:30 a.m. 

Once a decision is made that alters our normal schedule – a delay or school closure – a series of notifications go out immediately based on contact information families and staff have provided to the school.  I also notify various television and radio stations including:  KVLY, KXJB, WCCO, KBRF, KFGO, 98.7, 1070 and BOB95FM, KVRR, WDAY, KSTP and KSAX.

School closures will never be one of my favorite responsibilities of the job.  Despite my best efforts at gathering information and making a good decision, I won’t always be right.  As a parent, you have the ability to keep your child home if you think weather conditions are unsafe.  I completely understand and respect your decision.  With that, I am hoping that we can enjoy the beauty of a Minnesota winter and be blessed with good winter driving conditions.