Wichita and several area school districts canceled school for a third straight day Thursday, citing extreme cold and snow-covered side streets that could hamper bus routes.
Other districts – including Andover, Augusta, Derby and Mulvane – and Wichita State University decided to go on with regularly scheduled classes.
“We’re not able to get our buses started adequately right now,” said Lori O’Toole Buselt, spokeswoman for the Maize school district just west of Wichita, which canceled school about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“With some neighborhood streets still slick and snow-covered, we know delayed routes were a possibility,” Buselt said in an e-mail. About half of Maize’s 7,000 students ride buses. “Our elementary students would be waiting for longer periods of time at bus stops in dangerously cold weather,” she said.
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The Wichita school district also decided Wednesday afternoon to cancel classes because of a snowstorm followed by subzero wind chills. In a statement, officials said the decision was made with “student safety in mind, and was based on three factors: (1) sidewalks and roads remain snow-packed, (2) we anticipate significant delays in some bus runs, and (3) temperatures will remain dangerously low.”
Once again, students, parents and teachers knew by late afternoon that school had been canceled for the following day. Parents could plan dinner and child care simultaneously. Students could procrastinate a little more on homework. Teachers could stay up late and not set the alarm.
Wichita officials said the early notifications were a fortunate side effect of an unusually predictable winter storm, but not all snow-day calls will be so easy or so early.
“Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that” midafternoon call, said Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for the Wichita school district. “We want to get the most up-to-date information to make an informed decision.”
Arensman said the timing of this week’s storm, which began early Tuesday and dropped 6 to 9 inches of snow in the Wichita area, was unusual. On Monday, forecasters unanimously warned of harsh weather and treacherous road conditions.
Wichita school officials made the call about 5 p.m. Monday to cancel school Tuesday. They decided at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to cancel Wednesday classes, and at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday to cancel school Thursday.
Not all weather systems are so predictable, though. Decisions on whether to have school often come later, Arensman said, after officials have had time to consider forecasts along with road conditions, estimated morning wind chills and the state of school driveways and parking lots.
In past years, districts have announced snow-day cancellations as late as 10 p.m. or even 5 a.m., with automated telephone calls to parents and employees.
“The next storm might be one of those where we could get a dusting, or we could get a foot” of snow, Arensman said. “Some of them really vary. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of working with Mother Nature.”
About a third of Wichita’s 50,000 students ride buses to school, so the district’s weather team considers conditions that could delay buses and leave children waiting at stops longer than usual in frigid temperatures.
On the Wichita district’s Facebook page Tuesday, several people thanked officials for the early decisions.
“I appreciate not having to wonder about school into the evening or early morning hours,” said Debbie McGuire, a teacher at Wilbur Middle School. “I am sure those who scramble for day care appreciate it even more.”
McGuire said the alternative – “You lay awake at night wondering, ‘Are we having school tomorrow? Are we having school tomorrow?’ ” – is unnerving. So is a call at 5 a.m. that school has been canceled.
“Then you’re excited because you have the day off,” she said. “But you can’t go back to sleep.”
Arensman said the district will re-evaluate conditions late Thursday before deciding whether to have school Friday. Either way, an announcement will be posted on the district’s website and its Twitter and Facebook pages.
“We would love to be able to say, ‘Hey, by a certain time, every time, we’ll make that call.’ But that’s not possible,” she said. “That’s why we just encourage parents to have a Plan B (for child care), someone you identify beforehand and say, ‘When it looks bad, we might need you or we might not.’ ”