SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Calling off school isn’t something districts like to do but sometimes, it’s a necessity, two area school officials said.
KELOLAND Weather predicted ground blizzard conditions today for parts of KELOLAND and a wind chill warning or advisory was listed for tonight into tomorrow for many areas. Those are two factors which may cause schools to close or dismiss early if school is already in session.
Keeping students and others safe is a priority, school officials from Canton and Sioux Falls said in a recent interview with KELOLAND News.
“Certainly if there is a windchill warning,” Canton superintendent Terry Gerber said of reasons to consider canceling school, dismissing it early or starting late.
When it comes to cold and wind chill, the Sioux Falls School District considers the amount of time a student may be outside and the factor of exposed skin and frostbite potential, said the district’s community relations and community education director Dee Ann Konrad.
The Sioux Falls district has a weather team that collaborates with the lead National Weather Service forecaster, the district said in a Wednesday prepared statement for KELOLAND News.
But weather can change quickly and forecasts may not impact each school district in the same way.
The Canton School District is about 17 miles wide and 20 miles long which means different parts of the district could have different weather or road conditions, Gerber said.
The district includes areas near Newton Hills and flatter areas of Lincoln County. So, wind may be having more of a negative impact in one part of the district while having little affect in another part of the district, Gerber said.
Gerber works with the district’s transportation director who is an employee of ABC, the bus contractor for the district. The decision on whether or not to call off school can happen very early in the morning on some days.
Gerber will check out road conditions in one area of the district while the transportation director will check out road conditions in another part of the district.
“We got out about 5 a.m.,” Gerber said. The decision on closure or late start is made by 6 a.m., Gerber said.
If wind or other adverse conditions are predicted during the school, the school districts will monitor the conditions and forecast.
If school is dismissed early in Canton, it’s important to time it so bus drivers can get in, get buses loaded and complete their routes safely, Gerber said.
The Sioux Falls School District may be able to stay open on days when some rural school districts close or dismiss early.
“Sioux Falls may be open when others cannot because they have the rural roads we don’t,” Konrad said.
The Sioux Falls district does need to take into account the make up of the student body, Konrad said. About 50% of the district’s students are on free and reduced lunches, Konrad said. If school is canceled or dismissed before lunch, those students may not get a lunch that day, Konrad said.
“A ‘snow day’ doesn’t happen that often,” Konrad said. “We have to take into considerations a lot of different factors.”
Gerber said the Canton School District used to build ‘snow days’ into the calendar so they could be made up during the regular school year. That often meant cutting a planned school vacation short such as over Christmas or in the spring.
“What we found out is that people were buying plane tickets or had taken vacation days off…,” Gerber said. Trying to use make up days conflicted with family plans, he said.
The district decided several years ago to add make up days to the end of the school year, Gerber said.
Gerber said the district reminds families to try and keep the week after the school year is scheduled to end open, just in case make up days are needed.
The Canton School District missed one day of school in 2013-2014, two days in 2014-2015 and six in 2018-2019, Gerber said.
Gerber recalled the 1997-1998 school year when he worked in the Arlington School District. So much school was missed that year because of weather the district added 40 minutes a day to a stretch of school days to make up for lost days.
“That was brutal,” he said.