Snow days: the method behind the madness

The alarm clock rings. All over town, Ames High students groan, roll over and turn it off. But, as they get up and look out the window, they notice a layer of gleaming white snow covering everything outside. With excitement, they turn on the television, radio or computer. The wonderful words come: "Ames Schools – Cancelled." It’s a snow day. "I love snow days!" said sophomore Atli Heimisson. "They’re little gifts from God." The weather-related cancellation of school is an event that has been much celebrated by children for, perhaps, as long as there has been school and weather. However, safety is the primary concern in decisions concerning school cancellations, explained district superintendent Dr. Linda Beyea, who works in the early morning to determine the safety of the roads and weather. "It is not a simple decision," Beyea said. "It is tempered by what will be safe for students." Dr. Beyea monitors weather forecasts during the day and in the evenings, and if she detects any weather that could be unsafe to hold school in, she is usually up by 4:00 AM the next morning, talking with many professionals and groups and monitoring the weather. “I work with the city police as we talk about the road conditions of the streets, what has been sanded or salted, and what will be sanded or salted by the time the buses would be running and parents or students [would be] driving to school,” Beyea said. “I work with our school bus company. They have their drivers on the road driving the routes to see the road conditions, determining if they can safely take students to school. They are on the road by a little after 4:00. I am in communication with them until we are sure what needs to be done.” Beyea also works with the district facilities department. “They are at the schools early (sometimes before 5:00) to begin the removal of snow in the parking lots and on the sidewalks," Beyea said. They let me know how their work is progressing, what conditions they are finding, and if they will have the work that is needed done in time for school.” She then combines all of this information to decide. “I continue to monitor forecasts and see what is projected for the day, and then, with everyone’s input, advice, and expertise, a decision is made,” Beyea said. The inconvienence of school cancellations outweigh the rewards for senior Eric Garasky. "I hate snow days," Garasky said. "I come to school to learn, not to stay home and shovel my driveway." English teacher Del Schmidt agrees. "I think that we should challenge ourselves to get to school every day and learn, even if we have to plow through 20-foot snow drifts to do so," Schmidt said. "Nothing should get in the way of education." However, the prospect of going to school in bad weather discourages many students. "I think that we should have more snow days," freshman William Rekemeyer said. "Teachers who don’t agree with them should take a hike." Whether or not students enjoy snow days, the school district must, under Iowa law, complete a 180-day school year, and snow days must be made up later. Of course, there is a way to keep students safe, avoid inclement weather and still complete a school day: delays and early dismissals. "We should have more delays, so that the students have more time to safely get to school, and the road crews can do their jobs better and safer," sophomore Kate Dobson said. Ames schools had many delays and early dismissals last year, a record-setting winter for Iowa. Other area school districts, however, had even more of them. Band teacher Andrew Buttermore, who lives in Nevada, gives his take on the districts’ differences: "Most Ames students live within the city limits, so it’s unfair to compare us to, say, a rural district," Buttermore said. Superintendent Beyea agrees. "Because we are a city school [district] with almost all of our roads or streets paved, our schools are often able to hold school when the districts around us have to cancel because they cannot go on unpaved and gravel roads with their buses or cars," Beyea said. Such was the case early last week, when a large snowstorm threatened to get in the way of school on Tuesday. Although the storm ended up smaller than had previously been expected, every other school district in Story County was either delayed or cancelled. The roads in Ames were bad, but not impassable, determined Dr. Beyea. So, the snowplows emerged, salt was sprinkled on the streets, and school went on as normal. Nothing got in the way of education.