Making the call to cancel school


Last updated 2/20/2024 at 9:30am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Sisters School District's bus fleet stood down for two days last week as school was canceled due to weather.

Sisters School District #6 canceled school last Thursday and Friday due to weather, the first back to back closures since "snowmageddon" - the crushing snow event in 2016-2017.

Even with a brutal forecast or National Weather Service warning or advisory, the decision is not made the night before.

School Superintendent, Curt Scholl, said, "We must wait to make the call because sometimes the big storms that are expected don't show up.

"I've seen forecasts for a day for between four and 10 inches of snow," he said. "Four inches is not a problem. Ten is. Then there's always the question of whether it actually shows up."

Scholl explains that safety is the driving consideration - primarily for the students, but for staff and the bus drivers as well.

"Parents with 4-wheel drive SUVs may be able to get around just fine. That doesn't mean a school bus will," he said.

It's a joint decision between Scholl and Operations Director Ryan Stock, who lives in Redmond. Stock is on the road by 4 a.m. and Scholl by 4:30 to 4:45 a.m. Separately they make the rounds of the District and then meet to make the call, around 5:30 a.m.

Media like The Nugget, and social media, are alerted and the parent notification system kicks in, and apps on their phones advise them if school is outright canceled or on a delayed start.

The District goes well beyond the plowed streets and shoveled walks of Sisters. Many kids are in farm and ranch settings, with long walks from their homes to where the bus collects them.

Even in town, the bus does not go door-to-door. Kids walk to designated pick up points, maybe a few blocks. Scholl and Stock have to factor that into the equation. Is it safe for kids to walk to the bus point, in some cases having to cross unplowed or icy streets?

Traction is a big factor, often bigger than snow depth. Snow can provide purchase to bus tires whereas ice is a far greater risk. Having a bus load of kids in the ditch is the greatest fear. Or a student slipping while boarding.

If it looks like an hour or two of increasing temperatures will change conditions, then a delayed start may be called instead of a cancellation.

Thursday's closure was a fairly easy call, Scholl said. Friday was more subjective since the elementary and middle schools were already not in session for conferences, and the high school schedule has fewer hours on Fridays.

Scholl and Stock must also decide if buses carrying teams to away games or tournaments can make the trip safely, especially when travel is over the Santiam Pass to the Valley.

Teachers are contracted to work a certain number of days so days lost by snow closures will be made up and have no effect on the budget. The District also builds in a few days for such events. While there is a considerable amount of winter left, Scholl is optimistic that the school calendar will not have major disruptions.


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