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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

Snow no fun for school leaders as decision to close driven by road conditions

Perrysburg High School sophomore Conrad Seiling digs his car out of his driveway along Five Point Road. Perrysburg High School sophomore Conrad Seiling digs his car out of his driveway along Five Point Road.

In the early morning hours on snowy days, many school transportation directors and superintendents are out on the roads making a decision that will affect tens of thousands of local residents - whether it s bad enough to call a “snow day.”

For the past three days, the decision in dozens of school districts across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan was to close.

Some students smiled and went back to bed, but in many households parents scrambled to make day-care arrangements on the fly.

And by noon, when the sun came out and the roads were cleared, a lot of people were asking why their children were not in school.

In making the decision not to hold classes when winter weather is severe, school officials say they err on the side of student and staff safety.

“We look at the whole package. We look at the blowing and drifting snow. We look at the icy conditions. We look at the temperature, all of those factors. We try to use some common sense,” said John Hall, superintendent of Oregon schools, where classes have been called off the first three days of this week.

Toledo Public Schools held classes Monday but not Tuesday or yesterday. Chief business manager Dan Burns said he drove from his Rossford home to East Toledo and through downtown before recommending closure yesterday.

“One of the things I noticed was that a lot of times when there was a little bit of snow it was not that bad but we still had some ice underneath,” he said. “I felt that when we made the call, which was before 7 o clock, that it was unsafe to be on the road.”

The welfare of students who walk to school also was a concern, he said. With icy sidewalks hidden with snow, Mr. Burns said students could face trouble even off the roads.

“I believe it s more dangerous when you ve got that situation,” he said.

And for districts farther away from cities and city snowplow fleets, road conditions usually are much worse.

“When you get these farm fields that are hundreds or more acres wide open, all the wind blows right across the road and either drifts them or glazes them over,” said John Gasidlo, superintendent in the Whiteford district in Michigan. “Everything drifts. The roads get icy and it s even worse on dirt roads. The salt doesn t work on the dirt roads like it does on the pavement.”

With three “snow days” this week alone, some Ohio districts are approaching their five-day “calamity” limit for the school year.

The Ohio Department of Education requires that districts hold school for a minimum of 182 days, said J.C. Benton, department spokesman.

A total of five of the 182 days can be waived for “calamity days,” which include closures resulting from hazardous weather, building damage, disease, or other temporary circumstances due to utility failure.

If Ohio districts close schools for more than five days, they must make the days up, Mr. Benton said.

Michigan regulations, which had allowed only two “Act of God” days a school year, now requires district to begin making up school if they exceed 30 “Act of God” hours during the school year, said Superintendent Gasidlo.

Bedford Schools already has used 18.75 “Act of God” hours this school year, counting the past three days schools were closed because of severe weather and a 2-hour delay earlier in the year caused by a boiler problem at the high school, said John White, assistant superintendent.

Dave Rossman, superintendent of Elmwood School in Wood County, said his district s 110 square miles makes it difficult sometimes to decide about closure.

“You can have it crystal clear at the southern end of the district and foggy enough that you can t see your hand in front of your face in the northern end,” he said.

But this week the decision to close has been easy, the superintendent said.

“Our roads are covered with ice,” he said “We could skate down them with ice skates.”

As of yesterday, Elmwood had used four of its five calamity days for the year - three this week and a fog day in the fall, Mr. Rossman said.

Nancy Crandall, spokeswoman for Sylvania schools, said the district decides to close after its transportation director drives around the district beginning at 3 a.m. sometimes.

“She comes in and calls the superintendent. She ll also check in with some of the other area school districts to see what they re doing,” Ms. Crandall said. “We always err on the side of safety of children.”

Oregon Superintendent Hall said he knows not everyone will be pleased by decisions made regarding school closures - some parents have called this week to say classes should have been held when they were canceled, some have called to ask why classes weren t canceled sooner, he said.

“We get calls both ways,” Mr. Hall said. “I think most people are understanding that we certainly want our kids to be safe.”

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