To close or not to close

HANCOCK – The snowy, cold weather so far in December and January is having a serious effect on required class days for local school districts.

Dennis Harbour, superintendent of the Copper Country Intermediate School District in Hancock, who makes the decisions about school closings or delayed starts for bad weather, said each local school district creates its own calendar of days and hours for the school year, so individual districts may be affected by school closings or delays in different ways.

“Some may have a few more hours than others,” he said.

With the closing of schools today, and the closings in December, the six days allowed by the state have been reached already.

Harbour said he uses the Houghton and Keweenaw county road commissions to inform him of road conditions, especially on the more rural secondary roads, to help him decide if schools should be closed for poor road conditions. He also uses local meteorologist John Dee to inform him about the expected weather for the day. He consults the CCISD staff before making the decision about closing school as well.

If the wind chill is supposed to be minue-25 degrees for an extended period of time during a particular day, Harbour said he closes schools. If the air temperature is very cold without a wind chill factor, but the forecast is for warming during the day, he may not close schools.

Having so many days of closed schools for a combination of snow and cold by the end of January is quite unusual, Harbour said.

“This is something we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said.

Loret Roberts, CCISD pupil accounting auditor, said the DOE allows for six days of school closings or 1,098 hours required class time, and all the 13 local districts and classes at the CCISD building in Hancock were at five closed days Monday.

“One more day and we’re going to have to make up our time,” she said.

To meet the required hours, Roberts said some districts choose to add a day of class, and some choose to add hours to days at the end of the school year, Roberts said.

Harbour said exactly where the school districts are in relation to the number of state required days and hours is not a factor in his decision about school closings.

What he considers foremost is whether it will be safe for students to travel to and from school.

“That’s pretty much the whole dialogue,” he said. “That (hours) does not enter into the conversation at all.”