The winter season is quickly approaching. I wanted to send out this message before we are faced with our first wintry weather decision for the school year. Our district staff understands that the decision to open or close our school in bad weather has a significant impact on families. We also understand our students are better served—both academically and socially—by being in school. But, as always, our top priority is the safety of our students and staff.
HOW DO WE MAKE OUR DECISION?
Please understand that we make the decision to open or close schools in bad weather based on a careful analysis of all relevant factors, such as the following:
- Transportation Director, Ron Copeland, and I spend many early morning hours traveling our roads when there is inclement weather. I also stay in contact with several MoDot workers who are traveling throughout our district. They provide their expertise when I contact them to ask what they are experiencing while working. We must give careful consideration to the most dangerous roads in the district. Even if your street/road looks clear, travel elsewhere in the district may be dangerous. Also, we must consider that some high school students drive to school.
- Amount of snow and ice accumulated
- Whether precipitation is continuing
- Building conditions (such as whether we have electricity and heat)
- Parking lot conditions. Building and Grounds Director, Wes DeLuca, and I talk to maintenance and custodial staff members who are responsible for clearing and treating school parking lots and sidewalks.
- Temperature and wind chill. Some of our students walk to school, and some must wait outside for the bus.
- Weather predictions. We prefer not making our decision based on weather predictions, which are not always accurate, but sometimes this is unavoidable.
- What other school districts are doing. We also share information with other local districts and check whether they are opening or closing. However, we cannot always reflect the same decision as our neighboring districts. There are 516 public school districts in the state of Missouri. St. James R-I School District is the 81st largest school district in total area. We have 217 square miles of roads as compared to Rolla’s 205 square miles and Cuba’s 163 square miles. The smallest Missouri district in area is Brentwood at 2 square miles and the largest is Putnam County at 507 square miles. Although, we are similar in size to Rolla, we have more gravel roads. Because of this fact, many times we are at the mercy of the Phelps County Road Department on wintry days. On occasion, the road department is too overwhelmed to clear all county gravel roads. Because Rolla has a higher percentage of bus riders on paved roads, they are inclined to go to school on days when it is a close call. The few times when Rolla and St. James make different decisions is almost always due to county gravel road conditions. Because every district’s road situation is different, I must always take into account many of these factors before making a decision about opening or closing school.
WHO MAKES THE DECISION?
As superintendent, I am responsible for the final decision, based on the above factors and recommendations from Ron Copeland, Wes DeLuca, and Chief Ron Jones.
HOW IS THE PUBLIC NOTIFIED?
Download the St. James R-I School District School Messenger mobile app to be notified first. You can also check our website, Facebook and Twitter for information. Tune in to your local television and radio stations. The following stations are notified: KTJJ 98.5, KTTR/KZNN, KCLQ 107.9, KRCG (ch. 13), KOMU (ch. 8), KSDK (ch. 5), KMIZ (ch. 17), and Fox 2 News.
WHEN IS THE DECISION MADE?
I attempt to make the decision by 5:30am or earlier so we can notify radio and TV stations and post the decision on School Messenger and on our website. The 5:30am notification also gives our bus drivers enough notice not to begin their morning routes. If I wait longer to announce a closing, some parents will have already left for work, leaving their children unsupervised.
WILL WE CLOSE SCHOOL IF CONDITIONS WORSEN?
Keep in mind that even if weather conditions worsen we cannot reverse our decision in the morning without endangering students. Once we make the decision to open the schools, many parents rely on it and leave for work. If we then send students right back home, many will return to unsupervised bus stops and empty houses. If conditions worsen during the school day, we may need to have an early dismissal, but we will give adequate notice to all parents first.
Although my staff and I do our absolute best in this process, we know that often no perfect decision exists. If you do not feel as though it is safe for your child to attend school, use your best judgment on whether he or she should attend. Also, discourage teenagers from driving in dangerous conditions and offer them alternatives if weather conditions worsen.
I hope this explanation helps everyone understand the process our staff uses to make the best possible decision for all in our district. You never know, we may have a mild winter with no school closings this year. It could happen. However, in the case we do have bad weather, we will be prepared to make the best decision possible with the information available. As always, thank you for your continued patience and understanding.