Early decision to cancel schools praised
Friday, February 22, 2013
Conditions might not have been at the white-out stage by late morning Thursday, but school officials likely made a popular call to cancel school.
U.S. 54, through south Callaway County, was blanketed with snow. State Route AA, which leads to Callaway Hills Elementary School, had not yet been plowed. The parking lots surrounding Jefferson City High School were blanketed in a nearly pristine layer of sleet and snow.
Not a scrap of black asphalt could be seen anywhere.
Sitting in his truck in the lot north of the Jays’ stadium, Jefferson City Public Schools Superintendent Brian Mitchell said: “Here’s what we’re facing today: Where we’re sitting right now hasn’t even been plowed once.”
On Wednesday night, the call to cancel school wasn’t as perplexing as usual because meteorologists firmly agreed a bad storm was brewing. “It wasn’t a matter of if, but when and how much,” Mitchell said.
For Mitchell, calling off school is a touchy prospect.
“Half the time, it’s a no-brainer, but the other half of the time, it’s much more difficult to call,” he said.
There have been times when he’s made a decision to cancel, only to see a 10-inch snowstorm deliver raindrops instead. “It warmed up,” he said.
On inclement weather days, if it’s already snowing or if it looks imminent, he’ll leave the house at 4 a.m. to see the impact first hand. If it’s still dry, he monitors forecasts from his home.
A team of Jefferson City public school officials divvy up sections of the district to explore. (Mitchell’s responsibility is Callaway County and the high school campus.)
Not only are they worried about the condition of city streets, they also make sure the district’s parking lots and sidewalks are safe to traverse.
After talking with members of his team, chatting with area meteorologists and public works officials, comparing notes with other superintendents and checking with First Student, Mitchell typically makes the final call around 5 a.m.
For Mitchell, snow and ice is the enemy. “Snow is one of those things I could live without,” he said. “I wish there were a play book that outlined what to do in every circumstance. But every circumstance is different.”
This time, if school had remained in session on Thursday, Mitchell was concerned about how students would return home or if an early dismissal would be required. And he knew that the earlier he announced the cancellation, the easier it would be for parents to make other plans.
“I didn’t think we’d gain anything by waiting,” he explained.
The reactions among parents to the early decision was largely positive.
“When you have the forecast that we had, it came in days ago, I think it’s best to cancel early so parents can make plans,” Sonya Spruiell posted on the News Tribune’s Facebook page. “It’s hard to wake up and make arrangements plus get yourself out in weather like we have this morning.”
Added Missi Gaggens: “They did the right thing. If they would have waited to see what it was like this morning, it would of been too late to call off school since it didn’t start till around 7. I’d rather have the kids home safe than risk the chance it gets bad later and something horrible happened! Good job JCPS!”
School for Jefferson City students will remain cancelled today because of inclement weather and road conditions. The district will post additional information regarding specific events — such as tonight’s basketball game again Hazelwood Central High School — as they are reported to the district’s central office.
A few Thursday events — including a production of “The Egg & I,” parent-teacher conferences at Southwest School and a chili supper — were cancelled.
This week’s snow days will be made up May 3 and May 20.
David Luther, assistant to the superintendent at JCPS, said the number of snow days still available in the schedule — after today, there are four left — isn’t a factor in the decision-making process. “Ultimately we do what’s in the best interest of our students,” he said.
The following Cole County schools were among those announcing early that they would not have classes again today: Jefferson City Public Schools; Blair Oaks R-2; Calvary Lutheran High School; Cole County R-1, Russellville; Cole County R-5, Eugene; Concord Christian; Helias High School; Immaculate Conception school; KIM Montessori; Kirchner State School; St. Martins school; St. Joseph and St. Peter, Jefferson City; St. Francis Xavier, Taos; St. Stanislaus, Wardsville; St. Thomas the Apostle; Special Learning Center, Jefferson City; Trinity Lutheran School; and Lincoln University.
For the complete, updated closings list in Cole and surrounding counties, go online to www.newstribune.com/closings.