Crookston Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Olson discusses weather and weather-related closures.  For more see his latest article below –

Weather is perhaps one of the favorite topics for many Minnesotans. We often state that if you don’t like the weather just wait as it is bound to change. In the interests of being a true northerner, let’s discuss the weather and more specifically the strategy that goes into the calling off or delay of school. I thought given the time of year we are in that this would be an appropriate topic. When people ask me what I do and I am faced with that confused look when I tell them that I am a school superintendent, my go to line is to say “you know the person that cancels school”. For whatever reason, the calling off of school seems to be the part of the job most people are familiar with. 

Delaying, closing early, or closing completely is a decision that is fraught with problems as no matter which decision you make someone somewhere is going to be unhappy with the call. I wanted to go through the metrics and rationale that I use in making these decisions as I thought this may be of general interest. The rationale that I will be describing is what has guided my decisions throughout my twelve years as a superintendent.

How cold is too cold? I generally use the NOAA wind chill chart for frostbite times as I make my decisions for delaying or cancelling school due to windchill. At a windchill of -40 I start to think about closing or delaying school and at a windchill of -50 I generally will shut school down as exposed skin will freeze in less than 5 minutes. I have to have a fairly high tolerance for windchill as in this part of the country, a lower standard would result in many more days of delayed or cancelled school. When wind chills are borderline and we are considering delaying school we also need to consider the improved conditions versus the possible schedule disruptions. For instance, if the temp will only improve a couple of degrees and delaying school will throw off schedules this actually creates a greater likelihood that buses, parent schedules, and other factors will actually leave kids in these temps for longer periods of time. We have also adopted a practice that when school is delayed for cold temps that our doors are opened at the same time as normal so that a kid who gets dropped off would have a warm place to be should the schedules be interrupted or if there was a communication problem, because the overarching goal is student safety. We would like to emphasize that this is an emergency provision only.

These are all incredibly tough decisions and not taken lightly. Our transportation director drives the roads in the morning and makes a recommendation on the travel safety. Generally, I try to have a weather decision made by 5:30 am with the understanding that there is a delay from the time I make the decision to the time when you actually receive the automated call. We also are in communication with several area schools and generally make this decision after consultation with area schools as these are tough decisions that require a lot of input from various sources. The factors that weigh into these situations are: weather forecasts, weather storm warnings/watches, road conditions, etc. We also need to be looking not only when we are getting out of school but also two hours beyond this so that our routes have time to drop off the kids and return safely. We also balance all of this with a desire to maintain our school services for our parents as cancellations or delays also impact the childcare situations for numerous families. In addition to this, we also live in a state in which we get a lot of weather and have to have a tolerance for the winter weather conditions of northern MN. 

These are tough calls and the point of this communication is to give you some insight into what goes into these decisions, how we make them, and factors that we use as these decisions are made. We always look to err on the side of student safety, however, sometimes finding that right balance is difficult. We always look to keep our students and staff safe in these sometimes challenging weather conditions. 

How can you help?

Make sure that your kids are prepared for the winter weather as they wait for the bus. Talk through your plans for early outs and late starts with your kids so that you have a good plan for these eventualities. Ensure that the school has your latest contact information so that we can keep you up to date on weather closures instantaneously. 

A couple of things that you can do to help keep yourself informed of school delays or closings:

Parents: ensure that the school has up-to-date telephone numbers as we use an instant alert system for informing parents of the weather/emergency calls. You should be receiving an email, text, and voice notice of any closings or delays. 

Listen to KROX radio: KROX does a nice job of keeping up to date on weather cancellations or delays.

Watch: KVLY TV Channel 11 – Fargo, KX4 TV Channel 4 – Fargo, and WDAZ TV Channel 8 – Grand Forks

If you have any questions on this topic or any other topic, please feel free to contact me by phone at 218-770-8717 or email jeremyolson@isd593.org. I would be happy to answer your questions. Let’s have a safe and uneventful winter!