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Good Question: How Do Schools Decide To Delay Or Close?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – We are in the age of the two-hour snow delay. Almost every time it snows, there’s a long list of schools with a late start time. Rarely do we see districts canceling classes.

How do schools decide to start late? And do those two hours really make a difference?

Paul Carlson is superintendent of New London – Spicer schools. Carlson says that during this school year alone, they’ve had four snow days and four 2-hour delays, including Monday morning.

“I might look a little rough right now because I’ve been up since 4:30 in the morning,” Carlson said.

At 166 square miles, Carlson’s district, which is near Wilmar, is geographically huge.

“Cars would have a very tough time making it through the drifts in our county roads,” he said.

He said the closing or delay decision is made in consultation with the bus company. People are up early, monitoring the forecast and driving the roads.

When the snow is really piling up, 6 to 12 inches, the extra two hours “don’t really make a difference,” he said.

But because rural districts cover so much ground, those extra two hours do matter when snow isn’t quite that heavy. A typical bus route can take an hour or an hour and a half to complete. Delaying two hours is significant time.

“That would give the snow plows some opportunities to get out to our county roads and to our township roads to clear that out before the buses were going out to pick up students,” he said.

The two-hour delay can also be a literal delay. Bill Strom is the superintendent of the Mountain Lake School District, west of Mankato.

“It’s waiting to see if the weather is going to clear or get worse,” Strom said.

Mountain Lake has had nine 2-hour delays this winter.

“All of us want to do everything we can to have school,” he said.

While some districts have long enough school years that they have cushion built in for snow days, some do not. And by delaying and still having school, districts don’t have to make up the day.

“It’s still not easy. We know a two-hour delay will sometimes make it more difficult for students, because mom and dad will be off at work and they have to get to the bus stop,” he said.

Delaying isn’t always about the plows, though.

“Sometimes it’s waiting for daylight or waiting for fog to clear,” said Strom.

In those first couple months of winter, kids often wait at bus stops in the dark. Carlson says delaying start time by two hours means kids wait during daylight, which is safer when the roads are slick.

“When you’re in those months of December and January, it makes quite a difference to be able to pick up students when there’s daylight,” he said. “There’s always people who feel, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be two hours late,’ or ‘Oh, we should have canceled today,’” Carlson said.

Parents have to scramble to find day care if the school is closed, or they have to shuffle their schedules for the two-hour delay.

“It’s something we absolutely do not look forward to,” said Strom.

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