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November 14, 2011 06:05 PM

Snow Day? Making The Call Can Be Tough

Harrisburg, SD


For kids, nothing produces more excitement than an unexpected day off from school. But for school administrators, nothing produces more anxiety than making that call because there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes when a storm is approaching and a decision has to be made.

While conditions may appear okay in town, it's often a different story once you get out into the country. Like many school administrators, Harrisburg's School Superintendent Jim Holbeck has been making the call of whether to cancel or postpone classes for years.

"You talk to every superintendent and they will tell you calling off school is the hardest decision they have to make. And the reason for that is this: we're always are concerned about the safety of kids," Holbeck said. "But we also understand we live in South Dakota. And we understand that winter is a reality and that we just can't call school off every time the snow falls."

Just south of Sioux Falls, the Harrisburg School District has about 2,700 students. With that many parents involved, not everyone will be happy.

"We realize that if we call school off, both parents working, they have to find a way to take care of their kids at home during that time," Holbeck said.

Holbeck's tenure has been filled with these difficult decisions.

"I've been doing this for twenty years. I've made mistakes; I've called it off when I shouldn't have. I've had times when I wish I would have called school off and I didn't," Holbeck said.

But how does a superintendent make the call? Holbeck doesn't just use prior experience and intuition. He's up at four or five in the morning checking the news and with other schools.

"We like to talk to the people west of us. The people west of us talk to the people west of them. When storms are coming in from that direction we usually like to know what type of storm it is, how it's coming in, and then we make our decisions a lot of times from that," Holbeck said.

He also calls off school in instances of extreme cold wind chill or other conditions.

"But when it's icy, those are the fearful times we're worried about, with people on the roads," Holbeck said.

And several superintendents we talked with say they also turn to us here at KELOLAND News to get the latest weather updates and to get the message out to their students and staff.

We not only broadcast closings on the crawl at the bottom of the screen, but also feature larger school districts on the sides of your television screen.

Holbeck also stressed the importance of having a plan for your children to get into the home if school is canceled and you aren't there to let them in. It's a small step that isn't immediately obvious and could save lives.
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