Is it a snow day?

By Kevin Denke
Posted 1/12/11

     When the temps drop into the single digits and the snow begins to fly, who makes the decision on whether to call off school, delay it or to go ahead as usual?

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Is it a snow day?


     When the temps drop into the single digits and the snow begins to fly, who makes the decision on whether to call off school, delay it or to go ahead as usual?
    There are often a number of people involved in helping make the choice, but it all comes down to 27J Superintendent Rod Blunck and 27J Transportation Director Edie Dunbar. 

    The night before a possible snow day, like last Sunday, for instance, Blunck is in contact with other area superintendents. He also begins a conversation with Dunbar if it’s beginning to look bad enough outside.
    “I wait for Rod to call,” Dunbar said. “It’s not a one-man show, but he makes the final say.”
    Lynn Ann Sheats, assistant to Blunck, said approximately three days are built into each school year calendar to allow for snow days. If the district uses up those three days, they must add extra time.
    “It’s rare because they do such a good job of clearing the roads here,” Sheats said.
     District 27J called one snow day for kids and an additional snow day for staff over the 2009-2010 school year. The snow day close to last Christmas, it was blowing so hard Dunbar and Blunck called the snow day the night before.
    Factors they take into consideration are the amount of snowfall, sampled in various areas across the district, and if there is blowing snow or ice. Another big factor is the wind chill, Dunbar said. Sometimes, if conditions are bad enough, they’re able to call a snow day the night before, but typically they wait until the morning.
    “We’ve both been doing this for so long we can lean on each other,” Dunbar said of Blunck. “We both know if it’s not even worth us talking to each other. Last Sunday night we decided to delay our decision until Monday morning.”
    On a snowy morning like Monday, Dunbar said she’s typically up by 1 a.m. checking weather and road conditions. A couple of hours later, she consults Blunck.
    “On a normal day our first bus has to leave the yard at 5 a.m., so we try to make that call by 4 a.m.,” she said. “I have to be on top of it.”
    Dunbar drives some of the district’s roads and consults parents and bus drivers from one corner of the district to the other.
    “People don’t realize we’re not just the town of Brighton,” Dunbar said. “We have 214 square miles to travel in a day.
    “We could be getting snow here and nothing out east and vice versa, there are so many regional conditions,” she continued. “But the question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘Can we safely transport the kids?’”
    Dunbar said the district has been using the district-wide call system to notify 27J families of school closures for a couple of years. The recorded message goes out to all families in the district, typically to each family’s home number as well as one cell number, and notifies them if schools will be closed or have a delayed start that day.
    “They key thing is that parents need to pay attention to their phones,” Dunbar said. “Sometimes when people hear a recording they immediately hang up, but they need to listen to those.”
    It’s a fine art calling a snow day, Dunbar said, and sometimes not all 27J parents are happy with the final decision. But she and Blunck try to make the best choice possible to ensure the safety of all children in the district.
    “Some people in Brighton will be upset with us because they don’t realize there are 214 square miles to think about,” Dunbar said. “It’s all about the safety of the kids. They are our number one priority.”


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