Snow daze

Weather-related time off adding up for school districts; waivers can be requested

Kathy St. Germain, front, and neighbor Fred Cole attempt to clear their driveways of heavy wet snow last week on High Street in Marquette. Area schools have canceled classes on numerous occasions in recent weeks. Schools in Michigan are given six snow days per year with an option to ask for three more. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — The succession of recent weather events involving the polar vortex, ice storm and blizzard have made going to school a challenge in Marquette County.

For example, Marquette Area Public Schools Superintendent Bill Saunders said Friday marked the seventh snow day of the 2018-19 school year MAPS.

That was before another snow day was called today for the district.

“The state forgives up to six inclement weather days of the mandated 180 attendance days,” MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders said in an email. “There is an appeal process if you go over the six days.”

Negaunee Public Schools has had seven cancellations related to snow, according to NPS Superintendent Dan Skewis.

In addition to the six days schools are allowed, districts are allowed to apply for a waiver for three “extra” days, he said in an email.

“We won’t be applying for the waiver until we’re confident we won’t have any more weather issues,” Skewis said. “I’m optimistic we will be granted the three extra days (if needed), considering the Lower Peninsula districts are in the same situation as us in the U.P.

“As always, when making a decision regarding weather-related cancellations, student safety is my number one priority. School districts are required to be in session for 180 days and 1,098 hours. If we have to make up time at the end of the school year, then that is what we’ll do.”

Have the snow days affected teachers’ schedules?

“Not at all,” Skewis said. “Teachers will have to make minor adjustments as we move toward the end of the school year, but all required curricular components will be covered before students dismiss for the summer.”

NICE Community Schools also has had seven snow days, Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said in an email.

“In the spring, most likely in late April, I’ll apply for a waiver for however many days we are over our limit,” DeAugustine said. “Normally, the Department of Education will authorize up to three additional days. This will likely be the case again, especially because of the fickle winter we’ve had so far across our state.”

Gwinn Area Community Schools Superintendent Sandy Petrovich said GACS also has had seven snow days as of Monday, having implemented a half day on Thursday to allow school buses to get children home safely and back to the bus garage before the bulk of the storm came.

“We are also discussing bringing back late starts, which would be a two-hour delay in the morning,” Petrovich said. “This may help students waiting for a bus on a wind-chill event or for allowing roads to get plowed before we start buses on the morning routes.”

In making the decision to cancel school, Petrovich said staff looks at all of the weather information issued by the National Weather Service and talks with area superintendents and transportation directors to see how other districts are responding to the weather event.

“Our team is up at 3:45 a.m. to ride the roads, check the forecast, etc., with a decision made usually by 5 a.m. if not earlier,” Petrovich said. “If the forecasted weather event is significant and projected on track, we may make a decision the evening before, which allows families to better plan for a school closure.”

However, she stressed the district cannot close for every weather event. “We live where we experience lots of snow and cold weather on a regular basis,” Petrovich said. “We ask parents to partner with us in ensuring warm outdoor weather gear for their children and in arranging day care for those times when children are home and parents are at work. Our bottom line is safety for our students, which is always a community endeavor.”

There could be more snow days forthcoming for area schools.

The NWS in Negaunee Township has issued a winter storm warning for Marquette and Baraga counties in effect from 9 a.m. today to 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Heavy snow is expected, with total snow accumulations of 6 to 9 inches, except for 10 to 14 inches over the higher terrain from the Huron Mountains to Ishpeming, Negaunee and Skandia. The heaviest snow should fall during this afternoon and early evening, affecting the evening commute.

The NWS suggests that people who must travel carry a flashlight, food and water in their vehicles in case of an emergency.