School cancellations due to inclement weather

As winter begins, inevitably there will be some school cancellations due to inclement weather.  In the last 15 years, on average, our schools have been either closed or delayed six times per year, with a low of only two times in a year and a high of 13 times in a year.

The state allows for six days or equivalent hours for closures. After this schools must make up the missed time.

There are some instances in which schools may request a waiver for additional days off, but the state does not have to grant the waiver.

During the last 15 years, local schools have been cancelled as early as Oct. 12 and as late as April 22 for a snow storm.  They were also cancelled twice in May due to power outages from lighting strikes and high winds.

So, what goes into the decision to call off school because of the weather?

The schools in Houghton and Keweenaw counties have agreed to act together when making decisions regarding weather-related cancellations, delays or early dismissals. Ultimately, the final decision is made by the ISD superintendent, but many others are involved in the process.

When weather advisories, warnings or conditions warrant consideration of a closing, the ISD superintendent talks with the Houghton County Road Commission at about 4:30 a.m. The commission has a person who drives around the county starting at 3:30 a.m. and is also in contact with his counterpart in Keweenaw County.

There are roughly 1,000 square miles of land in Houghton and Keweenaw counties, so it would be impossible for a superintendent to check all of the road conditions without the help of the road commissions.

The commission briefs the ISD superintendent on the road conditions and how well the plows are doing in getting the roads cleared. The superintendent then communicates with a local meteorologist, who provides a forecast for the upcoming day.

It is important to know that a decision to delay or cancel school must be made by no later than 5:15 a.m., as the first bus driver starts his bus route at 5:30.

Most times, making the call is an easy one.  If the commission states that the plows are not able to clear the roads or if the wind-chill temperature is -30 degrees, then the call is made right away.

There are times, however, when the decision is not as clear-cut.  For instance, if the wind chill is around -20 and is not predicted to get colder, then it is not as easy to make the decision.

When it comes to closing school early, unless it is known for certain that the weather will deteriorate, the policy has always been to keep students in school.  If the weather is somewhat poor, but is not predicated to get any worse, then the ride home at the end of the day is not likely to be better or worse than it would be in the middle of the day.

Weather is unpredictable and may change many times during a given day. With the winds in our area, at one moment it might look like a white-out, and the next the sun is shining.

Please know that decisions are made with the best information available at the time.  The ISD superintendent is in constant contact with the road commissions, a local meteorologist and other local superintendents to make the best decision possible.

George Stockero Jr. is the superintendent of the Copper Country Intermediate School District.