Driving through heavy snowfall on her way home from work late Sunday night, Michelle Gill was expecting a reprieve from the morning ritual of driving her seventh-grade son, Cooper, to school Monday morning.
“I thought it definitely was going to be a snow day,” said Gill, a registered nurse who works in Coeur d’Alene’s Riverstone development.
Despite several inches of snow that blanketed the area Sunday and into Monday morning, however, local school districts opted to hold classes after careful consideration.
It is, after all, winter in North Idaho.
“In a typical winter in Coeur d’Alene, we may see several days like today with significant overnight snowfall,” said Scott Maben, director of communications for the Coeur d’Alene School District. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that by the time students and parents are heading to school the roads are going to be treacherous.”
When snowy conditions are forecast, Maben said, school district officials are up well before the crack of dawn, as early as 3 a.m., to assess the conditions.
“We’re evaluating if streets are especially slick due to ice, or freezing rain, or extreme temperatures or even high winds. We’re looking at all those severe conditions,” Maben said. “Several inches of snow in and of itself may not warrant canceling school and that was the case for (Monday’s) decision.”
The final decision is made after a 4:30 a.m. conference call that includes maintenance and operations staff, transportation officials and the superintendent, who makes the final call.
“It’s not an exact science,” Maben said. “The superintendent takes in a lot of input from all of us during the conference call.”
Maben said a decision is usually made by 5:30 a.m. and that information is conveyed on the school district’s website and as a text alert for those who have opted in for messaging from the school district.
“Ultimately we need to make a decision that collectively is going to be the best for the majority of the students and family, as well as our own staff,” Maben said.
Officials with the Post Falls and Lakeland school districts also kept classes open on Monday.
Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said two factors weighed heavily in his decision to hold classes Monday.
“We had a light and powdery snow versus the heavy stuff, so it was a little easier to get around,” Keane said. “And we didn’t have any wind that would cause drifting. Especially for us on the prairie that’s a big deal.”
School district officials in Kootenai County said Monday’s late start also factored into the decision to keep schools open. Classes at Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lakeland school districts start one hour late on Mondays.
Lakeland Superintendent Becky Meyer said a team of six drivers in the sprawling district, which encompasses a large portion of the Rathdrum Prairie, is scouting bus routes by 3 a.m. when the snow flies.
The district also consults with highway districts for updates on plowing progress and road conditions. Parents are also an important part of the process, Meyer said.
“Parents need to make their own choice on whether their child goes to school based on their own unique circumstances,” Meyer said.
Meantime, Gill said getting her son to school safe and on time means planning ahead.
“I left about 20 minutes early and I’m glad because traffic was backed up,” Gill said. “When it’s snowing like this, you really have to get a head start.”