When winter months come and winter weather begins, one thing that can always be expected is a snow day or 10, depending on the type of winter that occurs.
Bismarck Superintendent Jason King said that the decision to close is never an easy call to make.
“The most important thing is making a decision that will keep students and teachers safe,” said King.
King also said that he not only has to look at ground conditions, but also the forecast. Although we try to plan ahead as much as possible, it’s not always feasible.
“Oftentimes inclement weather can arrive during morning or afternoon routes, creating a dangerous situation,” said King.
King said that he always gets out and drives the district’s bus routes before making a decision. News reports, as well as other people’s opinions are great, but nothing beats seeing the conditions first hand, he said.
Dylan Vogelsang, a local weather enthusiast, states that winter weather is hard to predict, especially a week in advance.
“Most of the time, winter weather starts out in the Pacific Ocean, which is where the energy is made,” said Vogelsang. “Until it hits land it’s just a guessing game.”
“Timing is the tricky part,” said Vogelsang. “For example, the storm that took place on Jan. 11 was forecast to begin in the afternoon up until that Thursday. However, once the storm got closer, it actually started Friday morning.”
King said that communication is also important. He said that several districts share borders and utilize the same roads for bus routes. He said superintendents of various districts often keep in contact with one another to share information on road conditions.
“The frustrating aspect of inclement weather is that is causes students to miss valuable learning time during a crucial part of the school year,” said King.
Even with missing critical learning time, King said the main concern is the safety of students.
“It is wise to err on the side of caution,” said King.
Dr. Yancy Poorman, superintendent of North County Schools, said that he is fortunate to have a transportation and maintenance director to assist in his decision to dismiss for snow.
Just as King said, Poorman also agreed that keeping in contact with other districts’ administrators is a big factor.
“We have an administrators association in the Mineral Area and stay in contact regularly during winter weather.”
Poorman said that if a storm is coming from the South, he consults with Fredericktown administrators and if it comes from the West, he can consult with Potosi or Arcadia Valley.
“In the superintendent world, we have a saying,” said Poorman, “'do what’s best for the kids; you’re gonna be wrong to some people either way.'
“In short, in the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this, I always rely on the fact that, ‘I can make up a day, I can’t make up a child!’”
Desi Mayberry, superintendent of Central Schools said, just like the other administrators, that safety of students is the first priority. Mayberry said as administrators, they get out and drive the roads and make their best judgement call.
Mayberry said it’s a common misconception that buses can’t go in the snow.
“Buses can get around pretty good in about any kind of weather,” said Mayberry. “The one thing I always think about is how will that high school student who has often times just learned to drive be able to get around in the current conditions."
Stacy Stevens, superintendent of West County Schools, said that there are a lot of things he thinks about when deciding to call school for winter weather. The forecast, other administrators, and road conditions are just a few.
Stevens agrees with Mayberry in the fact that there are a lot of new drivers at varying level which makes for dangerous situations in the inclement weather.
Stevens said that having school on a bad day can result in low attendance, which can actually lower the district’s performance rating.
“It’s better to have good attendance on a sunny day in May than to try and go on a bad day in February and have an accident or poor attendance,” said Stevens.
Stevens also mentioned that the district provides students breakfast and lunch on school days. “I worry about kids when we don’t have school, especially those who may not have enough to eat,” said Stevens.
Stevens agreed with other administrators, saying “this is somewhat cliché, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution."
Matt Ruble, superintendent for Farmington Schools, says that the goal of the district is to provide a safe environment for all students. “We have about 2,500 students on buses in the morning and afternoon and about half of them live outside the city limits,” said Ruble.
Ruble says he relies heavily on the Transportation Director Stacy Williams, and Mark Krause, director of operations for the district.
“They are the ones who drive the routes and determine safety for buses and student drivers,” said Ruble.
Ruble said that Farmington School District covers 321 square miles from over into Ste. Genevieve County on Highway 32 and down to the Madison County line on U.S. 67. Ruble said conditions can be vastly different from one end of the district to another.
According to the Missouri State Teachers Association, snow days are required to be made up day for day until the seventh day is missed. At that point, schools must make up one day for every two days missed through 14 days.
After 14 days, MSTA said that snow days are forgiven, or don’t have to be made up.
A 2014 study by Professor Joshua Goodman of Harvard shows that snow days do not impact student learning. “Keeping schools open during a winter storm is actually more detrimental to learning than being closed,” said Goodman.
Goodman said that snow days are actually less a problem for learning than regular student absence. When a student is absent, a teacher has to spend time working with one student to get him or her up to speed with the rest of the class. “This delays everyone,” said Goodman.
One thing that always comes up during winter, especially from the older generation, is “back in my day we didn’t have snow days."
One of the obvious reasons was proximity. According to Roots Web, before the mid 1960’s when the Central R-3 district was created, three of the four little towns that now make up Park Hills had their own school districts.
Elvins, Esther, and Flat River each had their own schools, so most kids simply walked to school. In those days, you were looking at the district having a two-mile radius versus a 10-mile or more radius that is common today, especially in rural districts.
Bill Holloway, former chief of police of Park Hills, said he went to Elvins School. He said they never had snow days and they all walked to school. “If you lived over a mile from the school you could ride the bus and the best I can remember the bus only went out B Highway.”
Roots Web also states that in addition to Central, Farmington was also made up of several smaller schools, including the city schools, Doe Run Schools, and the Busiek School.
Also, according to Roots Web, prior to 1950, Iron Mountain had its own school district. In 1950, Iron Mountain School consolidated with Bismarck. Desloge and Bonne Terre also had separate schools.