ISHPEMING — A few times a year, students will wake up to the exciting news that school has been cancelled. Snow days are one of the more exciting times of the winter season for students. For staff members, lots of planning goes into making sure a snow day is the right decision.
“We usually start talking to each other around four in the morning, my transportation director and I,” said NICE Community Schools Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine. “He then goes out and does a really good thorough road check, and then we start to talk to other people from around the area.”
NICE Community Schools’ district spans over 700 square miles – two thirds the size of Rhode Island. So the process of making sure students from each area can get to school is a lengthy one.
It’s not always the snow or ice that makes a snow day. Sometimes, it’s just too cold. For NICE, that cold weather poses a threat to student transportation.
“We run low–sulfur diesel engines and fuel in our busses, and those can get pretty finicky when it gets too cold. Even though they’re running, starting, stopping, sitting there idling while kids get on or off the bus, with the wind drawing heat off the engine, that diesel fuel can start to gel at certain temperatures,” said DeAugustine.
Sort of like a bus blood clot. The staff members work with other entities to make sure that students are the safest they can possibly be.
“The National Weather Service is invaluable to us; we often consult them to see the forecast models and the most recent updates about whether or not those models have changed. Talking to them in person is very helpful,” said DeAugustine.
“Information from the national weather service is ultimately one of the tools in the toolbox for the important decision makers such as school superintendents across Upper Michigan,” said Matt Zika, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Marquette.
It’s all about timing, too. If a decision is not made early enough, it can create some complications.
“We want to give parents the opportunity to put those snow day plans into place, Because we realize that people have jobs, and they have responsibilities and they’ve got to make sure their kids are taken care of for the day,” said DeAugustine. “It’s really important to give our families just a consistent ability to make sure their kids have someplace to go during a snow day, and that we don’t disrupt their daily routines too badly. Just give them enough notice so they can get those plans of action in place.”
“Our goal here is to be as proactive as possible,” added Zika. “We don’t want to set off any alarms or overplaying the threat of particular storm systems. But we know certain systems are going to have much more of an impact across the U.P. than some of the others.”
Both School staff and the National Weather Service work with many others to make sure that calling a snow day is the best move. It really is a decision that can save lives.
“A combination of rooting for the road crews to get the streets cleaned, getting the information we need from the National Weather Service and the hard work of the area transportation directors really helps us make our decisions and we try to make the best ones that we can,” said DeAugustine.