Snow days are a result of snow causing public safety issues such as power outages and overly slick/impassable roadways, as well as other hazards. They are usually called during the early morning hours, and involve careful probing of the weather reports and the forecast: the chance of ice accumulation, windchill, inches of snow and other such factors.
On January 12, 2016, Gull Lake Community Schools had a snow day, likely due to the blizzard-like conditions during the early morning hours as well as ice accumulation. But what if that wasn’t it? Does Gull Lake conduct its testing criteria on whether to cancel school, or do the school administrators simply look to schools around the area that are either open/closed to make the decision? Does Gull Lake have snow day criteria?
Superintendent Chris Rundle said that the primary factors that he bases on whether to cancel school or not are (in order of highest priority to lowest) ice accumulation, visibility, snow and then windchill. If the weather reports show that a storm is likely, his team of transportation directors and maintenance workers are out on the road at 3:30 a.m. They check the conditions while he gets up at 4:45 a.m. to network with school districts and keep in contact with his transportation and maintenance team as well as other school districts.
“They’re outside on the roads, coming to work, they’re checking main roads, back roads, and they’re in contact with their phones with other school districts around. Similar people like the transportation directors and our maintenance folks are actually on the roads, seeing what it’s like,” Rundle said. “The problem with Gull Lake is that we’re usually first, and I have to make the decision–whether there is school, or isn’t school, by 5:30 in the morning because our buses start shortly after that. And so, once we start, we’re kind of committed.”
At around 5:10 or 5:15 a.m., Rundle makes the decision to have or not to have a snow day. This decision is heavy handed, because once it has been decided, it cannot be retroactively changed as the buses start their route shortly after.
The number of snow days that Gull Lake can use without penalty are six. Though that number can be stretched to eight due to Gull Lake maximizing their actual school days to 180. Rundle also stated that the number one priority for students and staff is safety.
“The number one thing for me is safety of you guys [students], and our bus drivers and people coming to work. I’m an old state trooper, and so I’ve seen bad accidents–I’ve worked in them, I know what the roads can be like,” Rundle said.
That being said, Rundle said he has also made mistakes when calling snow days, whether it be on a day where there should or shouldn’t have had one.
“Yes, yes on all accounts. I’ve made mistakes because we have to go so early. I remember one in particular, and it was here at 5:30 in the morning, and it was just fine.” Rundle said that on one particular day that by the time it came for students get to school “it was horribly foggy. I mean, you couldn’t see a thing,” he said. “At 5:30 it was totally clear. But there was nothing I could do about it. We had to. It was too late.”
He stated that although we only have six snow days budgeted in, and if we go over, we do have to make them up. The best way to do that in his words is to add them on at the end of the year.
“But we have to deal with what comes, and as I say, the number one thing–I mean, I hope I get it right–is the safety. In that year, I’m not going to worry if we end up with 15 days. I would just say ‘oh well, that’s what we were dealt.’ It was better to be safe than to have somebody hurt. I have 100 percent control of that–we’ve had accidents, and you don’t like to see that. So we’ll do everything we can to prevent that,” Rundle said.
Gull Lake is the second largest district in this part of the state, spanning about 150 square miles with buses running in all areas. Some roads are curvy, bumpy, even unpaved. Rundle said he also considers this when calling a snow day.
“The number one danger for me is ice, and so it could be a day like today (where it’s fine), and if it had just rained, and was cold and really icy, we might not have school–on a day like today. Because we’ve got 150 square miles of roads. Our neighboring district has 10 square miles–and they’re all city streets. Here, we’re going up, down, around curves, dirt roads. I think we’re the second biggest district in this part of the state, square mile wise,” Rundle said.