Snow Days: How school districts decide when to call off school

1 month 3 weeks 1 day ago Thursday, December 05 2019 Dec 5, 2019 Thursday, December 05, 2019 7:56:00 PM CST December 05, 2019 in Weather
By: Alexis Clemons, KOMU 8 Weathercaster
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COLUMBIA - While most of us use the weather forecast in order to plan our own day, some people need it to make decisions that affect thousands of people like school closings.

The decision to call off or delay school is a tough one to make, as districts much consider many factors, and time is not on their side. School district decision makers across mid-Missouri face this challenge every year. 

The state of Missouri requires each school district have six built-in snow days in the school year calendar, but some winters are worse than others. Last winter, some school districts used as many as 17 snow days.

Since 2014, school systems also started using "delayed starts" in place of taking an entire day of school. 

Columbia Public Schools Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark said the delayed start option saved CPS from having to take more than 10 snow days last year.

"It's an alternative for us to still be able to have school that day to provide some consistency for our students, as well as meals and all those other things that families depend upon," Baumstark said. "But, we're not going to do that necessarily at the risk of safety."

The Columbia Public School District covers over 300 square miles in central Boone county, and has a large area to examine when looking at travel conditions.

The Southern Boone School District covers about 125 square miles, including county roads that are sometimes gravel roads. 

Superintendent Chris Felmlee said he will drive on roads in his district after or during a winter weather event to see if buses can travel safely.

"It really comes down to making this decision that, yes, we're going to have enough weather come through that's going to put my buses and younger drivers at risk," Felmlee said.

The Boonville School District face similar issues. The district's buses travel a total of 771 miles per day through northern Cooper County.

Superintendent Sarah Marriott communicates with several local leaders when winter weather is on its way. 

"We do try to communicate with the county, as well as the city as appropriate knowing too that they are really overwhelmed and overburdened at that time," Marriott said. "We don’t want to make it more difficult for them."

Marriott said she takes winter weather very seriously and tries, "to make those decisions based on what's best for kids and keeping them safe."

As the winter season gets closer, stay tuned to KOMU 8 News on the air and online for updates on the latest school closings.

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