How schools make ‘tough call’ to close

News Photo by Julie Goldberg The parking lot at Lincoln Elementary School, as seen here on Monday, is plowed after a few inches of snow and lots of wind hit the area.

ALPENA — Northeast Michigan school districts canceled school on Monday because of a storm that involved snow, some rain, and high winds. Now that winter is finally here, school districts have to make tough decisions about whether or not to cancel school when bad weather is taking place.

Canceling school is a process that focuses on the safety of students and staff, officials said. The protocol for canceling school in the Northeast Michigan region involves county road commissions and superintendents working together, having the input of school transportation directors and administrators, and looking at the predicted bad weather ahead of time.

Carl Seiter, superintendent of Hillman Community Schools and Atlanta Community Schools, said in an email to The News that school for Hillman and Atlanta was canceled at around 6 a.m. on Monday, while nearby schools canceled shortly before, at around 5:45 a.m.

Alpena Public Schools canceled school at around 7:45 a.m. Monday, after school had started at Thunder Bay Junior High School and Alpena High School. Those students were released when classes were canceled.

The storm had not hit, yet, while buses were picking Alpena students up.

APS Superintendent John VanWagoner could not be reached for comment.

Alcona Community Schools Superintendent Dan O’Connor said school wasn’t canceled until 11 a.m. on Monday, because the weather wasn’t bad until students were arriving to school at around 7:30 a.m. After it was determined to have a half-day of school, students were able to eat two meals and then go home before more bad weather came.

O’Connor said he and Transportation Director Kim Quick collaborate to determine whether or not to cancel school. They also talk with the Alcona County Road Commission to figure out how the roads are going to be.

“The day usually starts between 3:30 and 4 a.m.,” O’Connor said. “For this storm, we were talking about it a couple of days ago and weather is constantly changing. It’s sometimes a tough call to make, especially in a difficult situation.”

Seiter said that, when bad weather is taking place, his day usually begins at 4 a.m. to determine whether or not to cancel school. He said the biggest worry is not the school buses, but the students who drive to and from school.

“Buses can go through several inches of snow without much trouble,” Seiter said. “However, when visibility is a concern or the roads are slushy enough to pull a car off the road or into another lane, I think about a student driver and their inexperience. A day of school is not worth a child being hurt.”

Seiter said it is his decision to determine whether or not to cancel school, but he also relies on input from individuals like the school transportation director, fellow administrators and other area superintendents.

“I seek as much input as possible before I make the decision,” Seiter said.

Seiter said the Montmorency County Road Commission helps the schools by working to make sure the roads are cleared so students can get to and from school as safely as possible.

Area superintendents work together to make decisions about canceling school, which provides more input into the decision-making process, Seiter said.

“It is never good to be the only one closed or open,” Seiter said. “I appreciate everyone who helps with this process.”

Since he is the superintendent for both Hillman and Atlanta, Seiter said that, if there is bad weather, both school districts are usually canceled.

“With them being so close together, rarely do we experience different weather patterns,” Seiter said.

O’Connor said he also talks with area superintendents to determine who is canceling school.

“Safety is the first priority in bad weather,” he said.

Scott Reynolds, superintendent of the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District, said Pied Piper School closes whenever Alpena makes the decision to close. Reynolds said that, if the school districts in Alcona and Montmorency counties close, Pied Piper students residing in those districts have no school, but Pied Piper would still be open if there is school in Alpena.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.