Due to white snow and icy roads, students and staff were exempt from school on Dec. 8, 9, 15 and 16. Over email on Jan. 3, school district Superintendent Kathy Ludwig shared details regarding how these decisions are made. Here are her responses, which were edited only for journalistic style and grammar.
Q. My understanding is that it’s up to the superintendent to make calls on snow days. How do you make the decisions? Is there a checklist to follow?
A. Our district administrative team, operations team and the First Student bus service team track the weather information that comes to us via National Weather Service, local news, etc. We connect the evening before for any signs of inclement weather and determine if any decision can be made that evening regarding the next day. Sometimes snow begins during the evening and it’s an easier decision to make by early morning. Otherwise, we have drivers out by 4:30 – 5:30 a.m. checking the condition of various roads throughout Wilsonville and West Linn. We are in constant communication with one another during that time. Our goal is to make a decision by 5:30 a.m. in order to prepare drivers for a plan for that day. Either it’s a regular pick-up, a two-hour delay or closure. We need to alert our teachers and staff what the plans are for their work day. We also want to give families as much time as possible to make child care plans.
As superintendent, I am also in contact with other superintendents during that time. We email or text one another in the very early morning with our observations, questions and possible plans. I am typically in contact with Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Tigard-Tualatin as they are our closest neighboring school districts. I also monitor what Sherwood, Beaverton, Gladstone and Canby may be determining.
I want to always make a decision that keeps the safety of children a priority. At the same time, we want to make sure we keep school open for students to learn. We want to watch the weather projections closely. That said, weather is complex in the Pacific Northwest and especially in the Willamette Valley. Projections can be a moving target and sometimes can move in faster than predicted as we learned the week before winter break. I realize that my decision will never please everyone. If we decide to close, someone will be certain that we could have kept school in session. If we keep school in session, someone will be certain that children should have been kept home. Parents can always decide to keep their children home if they have weather concerns. They will not be penalized for missing school under those circumstances.
“I want to always make a decision that keeps the safety of children a priority.”
Q. What other responsibilities, besides calling early release or full closure, do district employees have on snow days?
A. When a snow day is called, we do not expect students or teachers to come into school. Other staff (e.g. principals, classified staff, custodians, district administration) may go into work if they feel it is safe to do so.
Q. Do the four snow days that we’ve had guarantee four makeup days in June? If not, when do you make the determination? I’ve also heard that early release days can be extended to make up for snow days. Is that true?
A: We do want to ensure that our students receive the mandated instructional hours for the school year. When hours are missed, e.g. during a snow day, we need to find a way to make them up. This can be done several ways. The easiest way is to add them onto the end of the school year. But this can present challenges when the school year may already go late into June. Sometimes conflicts arise for students, families or staff who have other plans in June (e.g. summer jobs, college classes, travel). If we can find a way during the remainder of the school year to exchange a staff development day for an instructional day, we could do that. It’s not ideal — teachers and principals covet these professional learning times with their colleagues.
No decision has been made at this time. We still have some very cold and unpredictable weather in the near future. But we will make the decision as soon as we can so that our staff, teachers, students and families can make adjustments to their calendars.