Looking out the window of his office, Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent, pointed to a parking lot filled with dozens of vehicles. Those vehicles, being driven by 16-18 year old students, play a big part in what he called one the hardest decisions he has to make during the school year – the delay, early release or cancellation of school due to inclement weather. By the time a decision is actually made, school leaders, in conjunction with weather advisors and transportation providers, have taken various factors into consideration, but there is always one that rises to the top.
“We just want to make sure everyone is safe,” said Ellingworth.
So, when the threat of inclement weather rises, he watches the weather reports and begins holding conversations with Rick Thielen, of Thielen Bus Lines, as well as other area school administrators, to determine a plan of action. When a school day is missed there are times when that day has to be made up, and, according to Ellingworth, in the past the school district did not have a specific policy in place that outlined the protocols for when school will be made up and when it would not. The Redwood Area Board of Education held a lengthy discussion in early 2016 that resulted in a specific policy that is being followed for the first time this year.
That policy states three snow-related make-up days are scheduled in the calendar when it is created before the start of a new year.
“If you were to look back over time on average there are about three days a year when we have to cancel school due to inclement weather,” said Ellingworth, adding, however, there are some years when there are none and others when there have been a lot more than three.
However, in establishing a policy, the district needed to take a look at long-term trends, and so in making its decision the determination to set aside three days was made. It also determined any school cancellations above three days would not be made up, as they would have to be added to the end of the calendar.
This year the school district has already cancelled school three times, and according to the policy that means those three scheduled snow make-up days will be used. The first day, said Ellingworth, is Feb. 20, which is a staff only day. Ellingworth said the school board set aside this first day as a time for teachers to come in and work on school level issues. Students do not need to report that day.
“Each school site has to submit a plan for that day,” said Ellingworth, adding the day is intended to provide staff a day to work on priorities that need time and attention.
The second and third day, March 13 and April 13, are staff and student days. Students must now be in attendance March 13 and April 13 based on the school’s policy. The policy, which is printed in the school calendar distributed to families and can be found on the school Web site and in each school level handbook, clearly states teachers and students should plan to be in school those days due to the fact that they are scheduled as inclement weather make-up days. Information is provided to the public through the local radio station, as well as on a number of statewide TV stations. That information is also provided to staff and families through the school’s alert system.