Brown describes weather decisions

FAIRMONT – Though 2014 has just begun, the weather has already interrupted the regular school day on several instances.

On Jan. 6, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called off school statewide due to below-freezing temperatures. Most districts across the state also cancelled school on Jan. 7, but Fairmont Area Schools did not.

Then this week, on Tuesday, Fairmont had a late start, while neighboring schools persevered despite the icy roads and strong winds.

The decision to delay or call off school is one of the most difficult decisions a superintendent has to make, says Fairmont Area Superintendent Joe Brown, but it’s often the busing company that essentially makes the final decision.

A phone call at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday morning from Minnesota Motor Bus gave Brown the information needed to determine a late start was necessary. The company suggested Fairmont Area delay school by two hours or cancel altogether.

The bus company test drives routes before picking up children to make sure the roads are safe during potentially hazardous weather. While testing the roads Tuesday morning, with roads glazed in ice and winds up to 60 mph, the company was involved in an accident, Brown reported, when the wind caused a side-swipe collision.

“If the bus company doesn’t think it’s safe to travel, they won’t,” he said.

Fairmont Area faced some criticism over its decision to delay school, especially since neighboring districts were on time Tuesday.

School board president Diane Gerhardt said half the people she talked to thought it was a good call, and half didn’t.

Dan Brookens, who serves on the school board and works at KFMC radio station, said the delayed start was the right move. On his way to the station in the early morning hours, Brookens said the roads were like glass, and wind gusts hit 61 mph, making driving and walking hazardous. The conditions made him nervous about having school in session at all. He wasn’t alone.

Social media was abuzz in the Fairmont area with parents worrying about their children getting safely to and from school.

Brown issued this reminder Tuesday night at a school board meeting: “As parents, you have the right to keep your child home if you think it’s not safe.”

The school board is waiting to decide on makeup days for the weather-caused cancellations and late starts. Teachers were instructed at the start of the 2013-2014 school year that they should not make plans for the first week out of school, just in case extra days are needed. Another option could be for staff development days to be used as regular school days.

“As the weather progresses, we’ll see what happens,” Gerhardt said.