Are Classes Canceled? A Look at How Snow Days are Determined
“Are classes canceled?” is a question that Northwest administrators hear any time meteorologists predict winter weather or winter weather occurs. Social media, the Administrative Center, and all of the school offices are inundated with messages asking the question. Undoubtedly, the answer will disappoint someone, whether it is a parent or student, wondering why classes are canceled or not.
Northwest Superintendent Dr. Desi Kirchhofer is the person to make the final decision, but he is not the only person with input. Kirchhofer explained the process of deciding to cancel classes or not, and that it is more than just looking outside and seeing snow on the road.
“Part of my job as superintendent is to monitor the weather. I have apps on my phone to help me, which include weather apps that utilize the latest models from the National Weather Service, to give an indication of when the weather may be severe enough to cancel classes,” he said. “I also have communication tools that help me communicate the message to parents quickly via telephone, email, text, and even social media.”
If the models predict snow, for example, Kirchhofer knows to monitor the situation the day of the predicted weather event. If and when it begins to snow, Kirchhofer consults with transportation officials with Northwest, as well as speaking with other superintendents in the Jefferson and St. Louis County areas. He explains the process of deciding to cancel classes or not, and explaining that it is more than just looking outside and seeing snow on the road.
“On a morning with snow, I am up at 3 a.m., driving the roads in the Northwest School District, surveying the conditions for myself. I personally have a vehicle built for winter weather, but not everyone does,” Kirchhofer said. “I keep this in mind as I drive the roads. I look for cars that may be stuck, other traffic on the road that may be sliding or having trouble getting up hills on snow-covered or icy streets and roads, the amount of the road that is covered with snow or ice, and any salt trucks or plows that may be out.”
The Northwest School District covers over 120 square miles. In one school year, Northwest busses travel 1.3 million miles of road, which is equivalent to nearly three trips to the Moon and back. Kirchhofer cannot get to every road in the district, so he relies on others to help him drive the roads, including Northwest administrators that live in the area and the transportation staff.
“Our transportation staff knows these roads better than most, and they know areas that are potentially troublesome. I take their advice as transportation professionals under consideration when making a final decision.” These factors include not only road conditions, but whether busses can safely turn around at some stops, and the chances of a bus getting stuck.
Northwest neighbors several other school districts, and the superintendents of these districts are in contact with each other, letting the others know about road conditions in their districts. One district may cancel classes, which can influence other districts to do the same.
“While a district like Rockwood may have classes one day, we may not. This is simply because of the types of roads in each district. Their roads typically have multiple lanes, shoulders, and sidewalks while we have several smaller roads without a shoulder or sidewalks for students to catch the bus. These roads are the most hazardous in inclement weather.”
The older and smaller roads in the Northwest School District are usually the reason classes are cancelled on a day when other schools may be in session.
“Obviously, we would not want to have a bus get stuck, slide off the road, or anything like that,” Kirchhofer said. “So while Highway 30 may be, for the most part, clear, some of the outlying roads may not be, and those roads are the only way to reach some of our students. In some cases, this will cause us to cancel classes for the day.”
Kirchhofer said that the main factors that go into the decision to cancel classes are
- Snowfall and ice on the roads.
- Transportation officials and administrators advice.
- Weather forecasts from National Weather Service meteorologists.
- Potential for refreeze, especially in problem areas.
- The ability of buses to travel in potentially hazardous conditions or to navigate potentially hazardous road conditions.
- The ability to make sure our parking lots and entryways safe.
“We take the decision to cancel classes very seriously. Our calendar is approved the prior academic year with a targeted date in mind for the last day of school. Any day we have to cancel automatically gets tacked onto the end of the school year,” he said.
At the time of writing, Northwest has already experienced five inclement weather days in the 2019-20 academic year. In the event Northwest experiences no other snow or weather cancellations, the last day of school has been pushed back from May 14 to May 21. With each day that classes are canceled, another day is added to the end of the year.
“Graduation is scheduled for May 22. Summer school begins May 26. Each snow day is one less day between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer school.”
Kirchhofer stresses that regardless of the number of snow days, the safety of students is always the first priority.
“While making these decisions about cancelling classes, we always keep the students safety in mind. We would hate for a bus, parent, or one of our students who are driving to school to have an accident, especially while they are trying to travel to school in inclement weather,” Kirchhofer said. “Especially teen drivers, who may not have experience driving in inclement weather.”
The next time you wonder if Northwest will have school because of inclement weather, you will know more about what goes into the decision-making process of calling off classes for a snow day. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t still wish for one.