Snow days are the delight of students and the bane of parents as they struggle to handle last-minute child care.
So when Durango School District 9-R canceled afternoon buses Jan. 6 and then canceled school altogether Thursday and Friday, parents and the community had some questions:
Why did the district hold school Wednesday last week and put parents in the position of having to pick up their kids?
“At the time we made the call to hold school early in the morning, the strength and timing of the storm were still uncertain,” said Julie Popp, spokeswoman for the district. “We would have been equally, if not more, criticized if we had called a snow day, and the storm didn’t come to fruition.”
One misconception, said 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger, was that the district was closing schools early that day.
“Our intent was to provide as much notice to families of the need to pick up children from school so they could make appropriate decisions within their daily schedules,” he said. “Our staff remained on site and conducted business as usual.”
How and why does the district decide to call a snow day?
The decisions are not generally made unilaterally by the school district, Popp said.
“We have lots of partners, the Colorado Department of Transportation, La Plata County Office of Emergency Management, the city of Durango,” Popp said. “We talk to the National Weather Service.”
The district covers an area of more than 1,100 square miles.
“Even if the roads are great in town,” Popp said, “that doesn’t mean they’re great outside of town. And we have lots of new (bus) drivers, so we’re trying to be prudent.”
Thursday’s cancellation was decided because of the amount of snow on school properties, where access and parking were both extremely limited, she said.
Snowberger and his staff, who head out between 4:30 and 5 a.m., check schools and routes, aren’t the only ones getting up in the dark to check conditions.
Butch Knowlton, director of the Office of Emergency Management, said he’s up about 4 a.m. checking with snowplow drivers and road district superintendents about the conditions they are seeing.
“On Friday, the visibility was poor, the wind was blowing, and in some places, the plows were having difficulty clearing routes we consider the most vital,” Knowlton said. “There was a chance it would get real dicey around rush hour, 7:30 or 8 a.m. We came to a concurrence with the district that it might be pretty bad for buses.”
Will students have to make up the snow days?
District 9-R builds in four potential snow days in its calendar each year, Popp said. If the district goes beyond that, Snowberger will go to the school board to request adding any additional days to the end of the school year.
District 9-R is making changes to some of its procedures in light of the predicted El Niño winter, Snowberger said.
And people questioning closures because the storms last week weren’t as bad as those historically don’t understand, Knowlton said.
“It’s a different world out there,” he said. “What makes it different is the heavy traffic each road carries.”