School closures – How does that work?

Over the years, schools in the Lake Pend Oreille School District have been closed for a variety of safety reasons. However, there are two primary reasons for school closures: bitter cold temperatures and/or heavy snow. Defining “bitter cold” is as uncertain as the weather itself. Temperature alone is not a true measuring stick; wind chill plays a major role in that determination.  As a rule of thumb, we tend to consider a closure when ambient temperature drops below minus ten. Our greatest concern is not for the student once they arrive at school, but rather waiting for the bus in the morning or walking home in the afternoon.

When there is a heavy snowfall, road conditions are the primary factor in the district‟s decision about closure. If snow is forecast.  We are up at 3 AM and on the telephone to the National Weather Service (NOAA) in Spokane for an up-to-the-minute update for our specific area. We also use the latest radar imagery and visual reports from our bus drivers in different parts of our district.

Any closure decision needs to be made no later than 4:30 AM to allow the district phone trees to take effect and for the media to be contacted. The first buses leave the shop about 5:00 AM and cooks start arriving shortly thereafter. “Past history tells us that closing schools based on a forecast is risky business. Therefore, the forecast, plus visuals from different areas in the district, helps us make the determination. Is it 100% accurate? No. However, by using all the data at our disposal, we can make an informed decision.

Some areas in the district have the potential to accumulate considerable amounts of snow while other areas may receive little or none. For example, areas in the northern part of the district receive upwards of 5 inches while in Sandpoint and Clark Fork it might be raining. “I have received calls stating that the roads are bad and we shouldn‟t be driving on them. Bad roads in the winter are a fact of life in North Idaho. We will not put kids at risk, but we will transport students when the roads are not optimal. As we do in our personal lives, we drive with a little more caution. It should be noted that LPOSD transportation department has one of the best safety records in the state.

The district is allowed 3 emergency closures per year from the state. All school districts are required by Idaho Code to have a specific number of instructional hours in the yearly calendar. If school closures cause the district to go below the minimums established, the time must be made up. Districts are not penalized monetarily by the state for school closures.

“Please remember, that parents have the ultimate decision whether to send their children to school or keep them home. For information about school closures call theLPOSD school closure hotline at 263-2312, listen to local radio, or tune in to regional television stations for school closure information.

Tom Albertson