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Making call to cancel classes a best-guess scenario

Feb. 17, 2010

As most Elmbrook students could quickly verify, the district has not called any snow days yet this year, despite two significant snowfalls that have canceled classes in nearby communities.

Speaking at a Feb. 9 School Board meeting - during the most recent of these storms - Superintendent Matt Gibson explained how he determines whether the weather will keep students home.

First, Gibson said, he considers weather conditions and reports.

"Weather conditions are seldom the same. Almost every possible snow day is different," he said.

Gibson said the Feb. 9 storm brought near-constant snowfall for many hours, while other storms bring significant precipitation in a short period of time.

The superintendent's second step is to make a round of phone calls. Gibson said he touches base with the local highway department, other school districts and any other relevant agencies.

Third, Gibson considers the number of makeup days built into the district's schedule. For example, there are no built-in makeup days this year, which means any snow days will need to be made up with extra days tacked onto the school year.

Elmbrook's 2009-10 school year is scheduled to end on Thursday, June 10, so one extra day would extend classes to Friday, June 11. That would work out fine, but, Gibson said, extending the year through Monday, June 14, would be problematic.

"That's really not doable," he said. "So in the back of my mind, I need a really compelling reason to have a snow day."

Lastly, and most importantly, Gibson said, he considers the snow's potential impact on the safety of Elmbrook's students and staff. Though safety is a top priority, snow is a fact of Wisconsin life.

"Some days are going to be snowy and some days are not, and that's a Wisconsin winter," he said.

All these factors seldom lend themselves to a black-and-white decision, Gibson said, but that's exactly what's required.

"In the end, either school is on or school is not on," he said, adding, "I just do the best I can with that."

And when parents disagree with that final call - some always do, Gibson said - they do have the ability to keep their kids home.

- Isral DeBruin

AT A GLANCE

ElmbrookWauwatosaMilwaukee
2005-06000
2006-07133
2007-08221
2008-09333
2009-10*000

Data for 2009-10 school year is current through Feb. 16

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