Amy Cunningham
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Keeping students safe is a top priority for local schools, that’s why, when inclement weather strikes the area, district officials take very seriously their responsibility for choosing whether or not to hold classes.
This week both Gardner-Edgerton and Spring Hill students enjoyed an extended four day weekend when administrators for each district made the decision, due to the weather, to cancel classes on Monday and Tuesday.
According to Bart Goering, Spring Hill Superintendent, many districts try to be conservative about calling snow days, but have the safety of students in mind.
“We always error on the side of caution,” he explained. “There is not a reason to take any chances, we try to have our thoughts and plans centered around the safety of our students and staff that have to try to get to school and work.”
Both Goering and his colleague in the Gardner Edgerton School District, Superintendent Bill Gilhaus, rely on their grounds and maintenance staff to closely monitor any changes when bad weather is forecasted. If the the time becomes appropriate, they deploy their crews to examine conditions within their respective districts; crews are looking not only for road conditions, but also calculating the amount of time necessary to clear district parking lots and sidewalks to make them passable and safe for students, busses and staff.
District officials also stay in contact with bus providers to ensure busses will be able to maneuver along snow and ice-packed roads. Once they gather this information Gilhaus and Goering typically participate in a conference call held among all Johnson County school superintendents to aide them in determining if they should hold classes or not.
Monday was a long day for both Gilhaus and Goering. By 5 a.m. each had attended the conference call with other Johnson County school administrators, but by that time both had been awake for some time.
According to Goering, he had already been out testing the roads in his district and spoken with the Spring Hill Director of building and grounds. Likewise Gilhaus had touched base with Phil Lenahan, that district’s Director of Maintenance.
Making the decision to cancel classes isn’t as simple as asking the question, ‘how much snow did we get,’  many other conditions must be factored in.
“We give it a lot forethought, taking into consideration, is the snow going to melt depending on road temperatures, are you going to be able to have parking lots cleared…we also look at the cold temperatures. We’re going to have some cold days coming up here, so it’s not always the snow…We also have to give consideration to walkers and bus riders,” Gilhaus said. “And think about manpower. We have to ask, ‘do you have the time to get those streets and parking lots cleared.’”
On Monday afternoon Johnson County school administrators met at 2 p.m. and postponed any decision-making until 8 p.m. When the group reconvened in the evening they decided to call school for Tuesday.
Both districts have four snow days built into their calendar year. According to the Kansas State Department of Education, each district may designate inclement weather days. In the case of both Gardner-Edgerton and Spring Hill, each school district has designated four snow days. The district must first make up the two snow days on the designated days before any forgiveness is allowed. For example, the first two days must be made up and the next two days missed due to weather would be forgiven. The district schedules two days, and the state forgives two.