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Focus on Education

La Nina returns


Yes, the weather word is out. Meteorologists tell us that La Nina will return this year with a vengeance. For skiers, snowshoe fans, and those who love to drive on snow-covered roadways, this is fabulous news. For those of us charged with making a decision regarding school closures and safety of roads for transportation, this news is not met so joyfully. Try as we might to make the correct decision regarding the opening or closure of school, we just can’t seem to please everyone. However, judging by the recent political debate and climate, there seems to be displeased people on either side of any issue. Since we aren’t meteorologists, savants, or mind readers, it is difficult to make this decision for a number of reasons.

First, if we were 100 percent accurate in terms of predicting the weather, we might be employed by the local television stations. Hitting 100 percent would be a remarkable achievement. Second, our district encompasses several micro climates. Hope might be balmy while Northside area is howling cold and snowy. Southside could be covered in snow and Farmin left bare. Unfortunately for this prediction business, we cannot simply close one school and leave another open. We are a system and each part depends upon the other. As a result, when schools are open, they are all open. When the determination is made to close school, all schools are closed. This decision bewilders parents and students from time to time but we do our very best to make a decision that is safety oriented. Typically, the decision is made following a process.

The night before a potential snowfall I am in contact with NOAA. They have the best meteorologists in the area; they advise airports, military and others. I even have the luxury of a direct line to the meteorologists. By the end of the season we are on a first name basis! However, this step is important as it is part one of trying to make a determination. We learn about the next 12 to 24 hours of weather. The next morning at approximately 3:30 am, Transportation Supervisor Bill Wright begins traveling the roads, as do some of his drivers. They call Bill and report on the conditions of the roads throughout our 52-mile-long, micro-climate district. As soon as Bill gathers this information, he calls me. Usually, I am wide awake, just waiting. I have read many good novels this way but I do find myself getting tired from time to time!  Bill reports the condition of the roads, the weather report he has heard, and we try to make a decision by 5:00 am. 

At this point I contact my assistant Julie Menghini. She is charged with contacting local media, who then report the news on school closures. She also updates the district snowline—263-2312—and website—www.lposd.org—all by 6:00 am. We often have this message posted by 5:30 am. Listening to local media is your best bet as the snowline number is often busy. Our goal is to provide enough notice so students can meet their bus, and those driving can have adequate time to safely transport to school, including high school drivers.

Whichever decision is made, I usually hear about it from a disgruntled patron. However, for every patron who asks why we didn’t close school, I hear from another whose wish is that we did. There are those who have work responsibilities and no day care for their children on these snowy days. They expect and want their children at school. There are those who can remain at home with their children and they simply don’t understand why we don’t shutter the doors. There lies the dilemma.

Our goal is always to look at student and staff safety as the number one priority. We live in a snowy climate and we could be closed for many days. However, our job is to educate children and doing so with the full amount of time available to us is the best way to make that happen. Our hope is that we do a solid job of finding the balance where our buses and cars can safely travel so school can occur.

For parents of high school drivers, who are upset when school does occur on a snowy day, please consider the bus as an option for your student. If you do not want them to drive, let them ride the safest form of transportation on our roadways; the yellow school bus. Your simple “No” to their request to drive will put your mind at ease. Finally, the parent does make the final decision regarding student attendance. If the area in which you live is inundated with snow, has dangerous, hanging branches, or is too cold, you may choose to keep your student at home. However, please be aware that school will continue.

Finally, we will do our very best to make the correct decision. We know we won’t always get it perfect, but that is certainly our goal. I look forward to your calls.


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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

Tagged as:

Lake Pend Oreille School District, LPOSD, weather, La Nina, school closures, snow

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