Tricky business deciding school closures, delays in Summit County |

Tricky business deciding school closures, delays in Summit County

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Last Wednesday’s two-hour delay for Summit County schools seems insignificant compared to the mass delays and cancellations happening in schools across the country. Many schools on the East Coast have already gone over their allotted number of snow days, and some are even considering slashing February and April vacations to avoid extending the school calendar into the summer.

Even so, Summit County schools have still had their fair share of disruptions due to this winter’s heavy snowfall and harsh weather. Julie McCluskie, climate and communications coordinator for the Summit School District, said school days, activities, and weekend events have been delayed or canceled nine different times so far this year, compared to only two for all of last year.

“It’s definitely been an unusual winter for us,” McCluskie said. “This is the worst winter I remember in a while.”

McCluskie said the decision making process begins around 5 a.m. with the school district’s transportation manager, Deb Estreich. Estreich pays attention to road alerts, and gets in contact with “spotters” – employees throughout the county – to access conditions throughout the different towns. Estreich will then get in touch with McCluskie and the superintendent, who check conditions through the National Weather Service, the State Highway Patrol and the Colorado Department of Transportation to help them reach a decision by 6:15 a.m. If morning conditions are already forecast to be questionable the night before, the three of them consult earlier. On occasion, school principals and the emergency response coordinator are also involved.

McCluskie said the process is “certainly thoughtful,” since the schools are in the “business of educating children, every day.” She said the district becomes concerned about transportation when road conditions are bad.

“These are very difficult decisions to make,” McCluskie said. “We want to do what’s in the best interest of the children.”

A recent letter to parents about last week’s delay said bus drivers are well-trained in winter driving, but parents are encouraged to keep children at home if they feel roads are questionable.

McCluskie said one of the challenges in making decisions about delaying or canceling school is the quickly changing weather and the often varying conditions across the county. She said Breckenridge can be in a white-out while Silverthorne still looks clear. Decisions are generally made for the entire school district.

The district only started using the two-hour delay a few years ago. McCluskie said it’s implemented in the hopes conditions will improve – roads are plowed, temperatures rise and the sun comes out – before they have to cancel.

So far this school year, there have not been any full school day cancellations. The school district has allotted four make-up days at the beginning of June if needed.

McCluskie said the district is not comprised of weather experts, and it’s a tough balance between making sure the children are safe and making sure they’re receiving an education. She said the district has “the best intention at heart” when making any decisions.

“Weather is challenging in Summit County,” she said. “We try to monitor and respond to that responsibly.”

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