- Westwood Elementary School
'Snow Day' Q and A
“Snow Day” FAQ: Answering Your Questions about School Days During Inclement Weather
December - and November, for that matter, have brought about some snowy starts to our school days here in ISD 728. And, while that hasn’t caused any school cancellations yet, that hasn’t come without some controversy.
We understand that there are concerns when wind, snow and ice descend on our area. We also know that school is, hands down, the safest place for many of our students on a day when we can responsibly hold classes.
So, the question is: how do you strike the proper balance?
Here are some questions you, our stakeholders, have brought about during these last few winter storm fronts.
Does the Superintendent care about my community when making the decision to hold school?
Bottom line - absolutely. The superintendent and cabinet have conversations with representatives from each of our cities and counties - as well as with state personnel - when factoring a decision on winter weather days. Those conversations start hours before the storm arrives and continue through the snowfall, ice, or other winter event.
Those conversations include topics such as public works availability and plows, first responders and general safety, city preparedness and ways we can cooperate to serve our students.
Does Vision Transportation make the call, or does the school?
The hard answer is both. Vision Transportation is our contractor - and no, nowhere does it state that Vision will or won’t do a 2-hour late start or early dismissal. However, Vision staff does inform the District about bus safety, and whether or not buses will even start (remember 2018?). Staff from Vision will inspect routes prior to sending out buses, and reports to all school districts they serve.
Those conversations, again, start hours prior to the storm’s arrival and continue throughout the storm or cold snap’s duration.
Does Bittman drive around to figure out what’s going on?
Dr. Bittman does drive around some of the District, but our District Community spans several hundred square miles and would take him, literally, days even with nice conditions to cover. So to say our Superintendent covers “all the roads” would be false.
However, Dr. Bittman talks with the people who do cover all of the roads in an effort to make a safe decision for every student. This includes our Snow Plow contractors, Wright and Hennepin County Dispatch and the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office.
Are you really taking kids’ safety into consideration when you decide to hold school?
Yes, absolutely. When it comes to the safety on our roads, our community is often split on whether school should be in session or not. These types of days are hard to appease all involved as everyone has their own experiences and expectations on what are considered safe driveable conditions. We also consider the safety and health impacts of students who would be at home unexpectedly for the day. Yes, in some cases it may be better for some families to keep their students home on a “bad weather” day. However, that isn’t the case for every student in the District. Some are from homes where situations aren’t, unfortunately, as safe as they would be at their school building. Others find school the only place where they can grab a hot meal, or are too young to be left home alone, with parents who don’t have options for daycare or family care. The District has thousands of students living in poverty, not to mention several who are completely homeless, which is a consideration also. These are things that the District must take into consideration when deciding to close school on any given day, even in the winter.
Doesn’t E-Learning make this much easier?
Sure. But, we’ve found throughout the COVID pandemic that our learners thrive in the classroom, and so we take the steps we can to make that option available to our 14,000 students. E-Learning is there - but, it isn’t to be taken for granted. Previous data shows that E-Learning is not effective for many of our students.
Can I keep my student home, or will they be given an unexcused absence?
If you decide to keep your student home due to weather, a phone call to your school is all that’s necessary. In fact, there is an attendance line for the entire District at 763-241-3555. Excused absences - within reason - are permitted.
Additionally - an absence is an absence. The student won’t be required to log on for an e-Learning Day for example. However, they must make up whatever work they’ve missed by coordinating with their teacher(s).
In short - we want to empower families to make sure they can do what’s best for them and their student(s). If it’s safer for the child to be in school - we want to provide that opportunity to learn and be in a safe and secure environment. If it’s best for the student to stay home - the family should be able to make that decision. Remaining “open” offers those two options.
Why don’t we do 2-hour delays? Or early dismissals?
Well, as hard as it might be to remember - ISD 728 has done both and will do either in a case that warrants that decision.
But here’s the “rub” - a 2-hour late start is among our least popular decisions with both parents and students. Yes, there are tactical reasons to do so - but the disruption it causes to families, our bus service, and teachers makes it a, well, tough call.
First, our contractor, Vision, transports - via bus - approximately 10,000 students to 21 different buildings over hundreds of miles. That schedule is adjusted for two different start times (elementary and secondary), two different day end times, and around activity schedules (buses and drivers are used when teams have to leave early from school). For a District that is smaller than ISD 728, adjustments to that schedule - for, say, 3,000 students - doesn’t have the impact it does for that large number of students and buses.
Secondly, 2-hour late starts are extremely difficult on households with both parents working, or single parents who work. Literally thousands of our ISD 728 families fall into this category, utilizing EdVenture Club or outside daycare centers or even in-home daycares to care for their students prior to school. A 2-hour late start can cause chaos to those arrangements. Parents cannot easily change their commute in many cases.
And, frankly, with (again) hundreds of miles of roads to plow in ISD 728, how much difference can be made in 120 minutes? That also has to be factored into our decision.
In most cases, the 2-hour late start is avoided due to these factors (it’s NOT in any written contract).
For early dismissals - many of the same childcare and transportation issues are presented. Moms and/or Dads have to flee work early (if they can) to grab students who normally might be in child care situations until 6 p.m.
Again - students are safest at school and in the classroom. So, that’s where we strive to keep them. And families thrive on schedules. So, we do our best to keep that schedule consistent, when possible and responsible.
Finally - this doesn’t mention the chaos adjusting the school schedule by 2-hours presents during the school day! Classes are shortened. Lunch periods are minutes long. Recess is curbed and obstacles are placed in the way of student success.
In short - we’re here to remove obstacles for kids - late starts and early dismissals make that more challenging!
You guys just want the money for keeping schools open, right?
Well, that’s not really how it works. Schools are funded by federal, state and local taxes. Unlike retail stores, we’re not “making money” and we’re certainly not going to be “profitable” if the doors stay open one day vs. another.
In short, this is a rather unfortunate narrative and doesn’t fit the way schools are funded.
If you’re thinking back to COVID - that’s much different than closing for a weather day and a much longer discussion than we have room for here.