How they decide whether or not to call a “Snow Day” for schools, short answer is, “Can buses run safely?”

 

Kodiak has had quite a year with snow—and we are only mid-way through February.

Despite regular dumps of new snow, we have had just one Snow Day declared at the schools.

 

KMXT’s Maggie Wall has this report on what prompts the closure of local schools.

Click arrow to listen to report, or continue below to read it.

 

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If you stand outside in the Kodiak High School parking lot you’ll see big hills of snow and a brownish slush covered parking lots.

Kodiak has had numerous heavy snowfalls in recent weeks, with one, on January 29, deep enough to necessitate closing local schools. That, in turn, caused a cascading effect of multiple other closures like local governments offices and local businesses.

 

Snow falls on Kodiak High School adding to the already deep piles of snow scattered throughout the parking lot. Photo KMXT/Maggie Wall.

 

Closing schools on a regularly scheduled day is not something that is taken lightly nor done often.

Kodiak Island Borough School District Superintendent Larry LeDoux said there a several reasons, but one stands above the others. The schools get paid based on student attendance and have a minimum number of days that students must attend.

 

“It’s big decision to close schools because we have to make them up You know, going to school on Saturday is not very popular and the joy of having a snow day soon disappears when you have to go to school on a Saturday to make it up.”

 

And, while LeDoux makes the final decision, declaring a Snow Day is not something he does alone.

He says he calls a list of others who deal with roads including the Kodiak City Public Works and Police Department, the state highway department, Coast Guard security, and Road Service District 1.

But the first call goes out to Jerry Clark who is the Kodiak Location Manager for the school bus company “First Student.”

 

Wall: “So Larry LeDoux said on the Snow Day, you guys went out and made that decision. So how do you guys make the decision?

Clark: “For that first blizzard, the biggest part of the decision was that neither of us could get out of our driveways because of the drifts. And the visibility was very, very limited. So That indicator alone was [enough]. We weren’t getting out of our own driveways, our employees aren’t going to be able to get to work. And most likely buses would not be able to navigate the roads if they were even plowed.”

Wall: “Is that’s why Larry said that the determining factor is can the buses run.” 

Clark: “It typically, that is the final decision — can we make the buses run?”

Wall: “Do you say okay Larry, you like cell phone and texting each other? Or on the phone?”

Clark: “And we are either texting or on the phone. On the phone usually works a little bit better. And we just discussed what options there may be. Do we think that it’s good enough that if a couple hours, would let the plow people get out and make the roads better? Do we do a delay?”

Wall: “But do you really do this, like in the wee hours? So if it’s like the other night, it was a heavy snow, only like two or three inches, do you not sleep at night?”

Clark: “You sleep at night. You just get up and look outdoors at about midnight to see what it’s really doing. And then my alarm is usually–like this morning my alarm was set for four o’clock –to get up and go start looking to see what they’ve done, or how much snow is come down. Is it is raining?”

Wall: “You don’t get much sleep then.?”

Clark: “You get it where you can.”

 

And once the decision is made, the calls go out. Superintendent LeDoux.

 

“For the last snow day, we had warning, so we sent out an All Call the night before saying we have a storm coming in, it looks bad. So if we think we’re not going to have school, we will notify you between 5:00 and 5:30 in the morning to let you know. And so we have the ability to call all of our families within seconds, if you will.”

 

All Call is a phone calling system that can send a prerecorded message to anyone on a list. In this case, a list of all families in Kodiak with children in the schools.

LeDoux says the January blizzard, which dumped 23 inches in 24 hours, was so bad that he considered a second day of closures, but ultimately opted against it.

 

“The day following the snow day we were a little concerned because you know, if you drove around there were a lot of people still blocked in, and the roads are real narrow.

“But we determined the buses could make it, so we also let parents know that if they couldn’t get to school, then they would have an excused absence. So parents are the most important decision maker on when it’s safe for their kids to go to school.

“But we made through the day. We had about 30 percent absences, which we expected because some parents kept their kids at home. And probably, some high school kids just decided to do something else on their own.”

 

To kids or others hoping for extra days off, LeDoux said Snow Days are so infrequent he can’t remember the exact year of the last one.

 

 

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