NewsCovering Colorado


Districts put safety first when delaying or cancelling school

Posted at 6:04 PM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 12:58:33-05

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Classes started late today for many students in the Pikes Peak Region. The 2-hour delay was taken as a safety measure in consideration of frigid below zero temperatures students would face walking to school or waiting for a bus.

"Student safety is always our priority," said Devra Ashby, spokesperson for Colorado Springs School District 11.

She explained that the decision to cancel school always comes down to student safety. Roads might be passable after a snow storm on busy thourough fares. Yet buses could still struggle to reach students on the infrequently plowed neighborhood streets.

"It's never an easy decision. It's probably one of the toughest decisions a superintendent or leadership would have to make," Ashby said.

Parents picking up their students at Trailblazer Elementary told us that bad weather days can be an inconvenience.

"It does put a little stress on our family, but fortunately, with my job, I have the flexibility to get out and take them to school whenever they have to go to school," said Anthony Welch.

Like Welch, mom Amy Carroll also has the ability to work around weather closures and delays.

"When District 11 closes or has a delay, my work also has a delay," she said. "So, I'm very fortunate."

But not every employer can be that flexible. Microchip Technologies Inc. has a staff of more than 700 employees, making them one of the largest private employers in the city. Dan Malinaric, Vice President of Operations, explained that the plant is operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week no matter the weather. It can take a couple of months to manufacture a batch of microprocessors and micro-controllers for their clients.

"We typically don't like to shut down even for bad weather," Malinaric said.

This week's storms weren't much of a hindrance. Managers here watch the forecast and encourage employees to plan ahead.

"We have a lot of people who love Colorado Springs, love living here. Bad weather is just one the things that we have to put up with, fortunately, not too often," Malinaric said.

Another major employer, UCHealth, has a similar policy for bad weather events. Spokesperson Cary Vogrin explained they will send employees reminders of approaching bad weather and encourage them to plan ahead for needs like childcare, elder care and pet care.

"Our staff is committed to patient care and understand the need to make accommodations during weather events," Vogrin said. "Even in the worst of conditions, UCHealth hospitals continue operating 24/7."

There is a cost to canceling class. State law mandates a minimum number of academic hours each school year. For elementary schools, it's 990 student contact hours per year. In middle and high school, it's 1,080 hours.

Alison Cortez, a spokesperson for Academy District 20, said the Board of Education built in 6 snow days when drawing up the academic calendar. They'd used four of those days by mid December. So, just before the winter break, an extra 10 minutes was added to the end of every school day to create a larger cushion of time in case of future snow days this Spring.

Ashby at District 11 explained that schools in her district can individually adjust their schedules to make up for time.

"We offer a menu of options to our schools; they can extend their days in the mornings or in the afternoons, they can shorten their lunch periods, they can take away from what we call PLC time, or late start time on Wednesdays," she said.

Students at Falcon High School in District 49 can participate in an e-learning program. When the weather is bad, they can still join their classes remotely from their laptop computers. It's a new use of technology that Ashby said they are monitoring as possibility for their students in the future.