By STEVE RAZIDLO
The weather just before Thanksgiving was warm and mild, but we know that sooner or later winter in the Brainerd lakes area will require us to make decisions to cancel, run a delayed start, or set up an early release due to inclement weather.
To ensure we make the best decision possible, our preparations begin each fall with a planning meeting. We team up with law enforcement officials from both Crow Wing County and Brainerd and Baxter, as well as representatives from Reichert Bus Company to establish communication protocols, update contact information, review changes to the district transportation map, and understand plowing schedules and equipment tolerances.
It’s a great opportunity to review our practices well before any tough weather arrives. When forecasts of troublesome weather first begin to materialize, we get ready. District administration and Reichert Bus begin a process of reviewing and discussing multiple forecasts before any big weather event arrives. The school district is often directly notified of large storms or severe cold by the National Weather Service’s Duluth office.
Oftentimes, we are in touch with the county plow crew chief and/or the state patrol. We talk with other school districts for added insight about the patterns across the region. Because weather predictions can evolve and change significantly during the time leading up to a storm, we wait as long as possible to declare a cancellation, a late start, or an early release.
In the case of snow events, reviewing forecasts and conferring with regional partners leads to district staff conducting road tests across outlying areas of the district before any decision is made. On more than one occasion in the last five years we have made a final decision about school based on driving conditions personally experienced on rural roads in our district between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.
In the case of extreme cold temperatures, we have listened closely to representatives from Reichert Bus regarding days that are forecast to stay at or below -25F. We have also used Duluth’s National Weather Service “Wind Chill Warning” as a significant measure of our ability to safely transport students. The combinations of cold, snow, wind, and darkness are factors that can make a snow event in January significantly different than an event in late February or March.
Cancellation and “late start” decisions are made by 5:45 a.m. and communications to students and staff immediately follow any decision to cancel, delay, or release early. In any case of weather-related change to a scheduled school day, we use our automated calling/messaging system to notify parents with a telephone call, text, or e-mail message regarding our decision. We also broadcast weather-related changes through radio and television outlets.
Finally, following any weather-related cancellation, our school board has set aside April 1 as a day when school could be called back into session to minimize the loss of instructional time. Brainerd Public Schools are thankful for so many things — great students, great parents, and great staff.
We hope all of our families are having a safe and pleasant holiday break. Knowing that the balmy temperatures experienced in the last few weeks are most likely coming to an end, we share this information with our community to clarify what we do when potential winter storms arrive.
STEVE RAZIDLO is the Brainerd school superintendent.