When inclement weather arrives in the Inland Northwest, school officials face the tough decision of whether to close schools, delay start times or stay open.
The ultimate decision is up to the superintendent of each district.
“We are in for a long winter, I think,” said Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small. “One of the things we have to realize is snow is a part of our life in Spokane. People need to prepare for that.”
Q. What factors do you use when deciding whether to delay or close school?
A. One of the things that happens during the winter season is we track weather almost every single day.
We are having conversations before we go to bed at night. The conversations are between myself and three or four other district officials.
What do we see weatherwise? If it’s questionable, we know at 3:30 a.m. we are going to start the process.
The factors that we consider are all-round student safety. Are the roads passable for our buses? We get out on the roads and we are evaluating if buses can get around.
The second consideration is, can parents who are driving their kids to school… get around on the streets?
We consider temperatures. Is it really, really cold? If we are in cold temperatures, are the buses going to be driving on good roads so kids aren’t stranded in cold weather? What is it like around our schools? This year in particular, we have made an effort to make sure sidewalks adjacent to the schools are cleared.
Q. When do you usually know what you’re going to do?
A. We usually know about 4 or 4:30 a.m.
Q. Do you have a temperature threshold for closing or delaying schools?
A. No. If it’s cold, we are going to determine if the buses can run on time so we don’t have kids left out in the cold.
Q. Are kids penalized if they are late due to the weather or if their parents decide to keep them home?
A. No. One of the things we communicate to our schools is that during this season we want people to act in a safe manner. When they get there, they need to make up any of the work they missed. If the district gets into a prolonged period of time where we are having extended absences, then we may need to reconsider school operations.
Q. How do you deal with parents who are upset about your decisions regarding school operations during inclement weather?
A. One of the things that I believe is that we set a school calendar, and the school calendar also sets a lot of other things in our community.
A lot of our parents go to work. They absolutely count on school being held. So closing schools is the exception. We are going to operate when we can if it’s safe.
You are always going to have people who disagree with your decisions. That’s the nature of being a superintendent.