The weather last winter was so nearly “balmy,” the idea of school closings never occurred to anyone.
But this season, who knows? Nasty winter weather could return with a vengeance. That is why an updated weather-related “School Closings” policy was recently announced by Sartell-St. Stephen Superintendent Joe Hill.
The main objective in weather-related closings, Hill said, is always to protect students’ safety. Although parents are the ultimate deciders on whether or not to send children to school during harsh weather, the school district – when necessary – will close all schools and extracurricular activities in cases where the weather is extremely severe or unsafe for any reasons, such as blinding near-zero visibility in snowstorms.
Many factors go into a decision on whether to close schools, Hill noted.
“Minnesota weather,” he said, “is sometimes difficult to predict. It’s essential citizens anticipate and prepare for school closings, delayed openings and early dismissals.”
Local public and parochial schools follow a coordinated plan that depends heavily on forecasts and advice from St. Cloud State University meteorologists and professors who localize weather analyses. In addition, the National Weather Service’s advisories are taken into consideration, especially when it announces winter watches and warnings.
Hill noted there are many factors besides snow or cold that can go into a decision to close schools. They include, usually, extremely heavy snowfall and cold, as well as strong winds, fog and other poor-visibility factors. At times, schools dismiss students early because of such dangerous factors, or they can announce delayed openings.
Hill said weather-related school decisions are always based on a coordinated plan among the three public-school systems in the area: Sartell-St. Stephen, Sauk Rapids-Rice and St. Cloud. Parochial schools also participate in the decisions. Once a decision to close, to delay opening or to dismiss early, all schools comply with that decision. The decision is announced immediately through all local media, as well as on school-district websites. The three superintendents of the three districts stay in contact and try to announce closings or late starts as soon as feasible, preferably the night before the weather emergency, Hill noted. At the very latest, such decisions will be made before 6 a.m., if at all possible.
“Winter weather and emergency situations are not predictable, and they may happen at any time,” Hill said. “The purpose for the weather-related closing plan is to assist parents/guardians and students to be better prepared to deal with emergency situations and reduce their effects.”
Part of the preparation would include parents and guardians consulting with daycare facilities ahead of time so special daycare arrangements can be made, especially in cases of late starts or early closings.
“Ultimately, the parent/guardian should make the final decision whether a child should attend school during severe weather.”