HOCKINSON, WA (KPTV) – The potential for snow and ice can make things tricky for local school districts this time of year.
Every morning, they have to make the call about whether it’s safe to have class as normal, or if a delay or cancellation is in the best interest of students and staff.
“It’s an early morning,” Superintendent Steve Marshall of the Hockinson School District told FOX 12.
Wednesday morning, Hockinson schools were on a two-hour delay over concerns about ice.
“What happened last night is we had quite a few snow flurries and moisture on our roads, and then the temperature was dropping and so we made a judgement call,” he explained. “We thought it was in the best interest of our students and families to do a two-hour late start so we could evaluate the roads and hopefully buy some time so roads could improve.”
“It was a good call to do the two-hour delay this morning,” said Robert Kilian with Cascade Student Transportation.
Kilian and his colleagues are up very early every morning.
By 3:30 a.m., they’re out hitting the roads around Hockinson and Battle Ground – the two school districts they contract with in Clark County – to personally check the road conditions, looking for snow and ice.
“I need to get with both districts by 5 a.m. with kind of what our findings are to give them half an hour to evaluate the situation before they have to put out a notice or make a decision,” Kilian explained.
In Hockinson, a district that covers 50 square miles, one of the concerns is the change in elevation.
While the roads in the valley may be clear, it could be a completely different story in the higher elevation hills where the school busses also need to go.
“Our elevation gain goes from a few hundred feet in the lowlands to close to 3,000 feet in some of our hills,” Marshall added.
He says he’s on the phone with representatives from Cascade around 4:45 or 5 a.m. each morning, and sometimes he drives the routes for himself to get a first-hand look.
“On Monday I did drive some of our high elevation routes,” he said. “If there’s a challenge or some questions about why a decision is made, it makes me feel better to explain that I saw it personally.”
The decision to delay or cancel is based on both observations from area roads and also the weather forecast for what is coming.
When Kilian makes his checks, he says it’s sometimes hard to predict if a certain road will be sanded or plowed before the start of school, so sometimes the same roads have to be driven more than once.
He says Cascade Student Transportation drives 19 routes for Hockinson schools.
Marshall says the decision to delay or cancel school is not taken lightly, and he knows no matter what they decide, there will be some families who are upset.
“Any deviation from our normal schedule is an impact on our families,” he said. “You never make the right decision for everyone… Depending on someone’s experience, where they live and what they see, it can be a controversial decision.”
For instance, someone living near the heart of Hockinson in the lowlands may have no inclement weather, while snow and ice cause major issues in the hills just outside of town.
Kilian took FOX 12 up Northeast Rawson Road as one example of a route that can be dangerous.
Marshall says, in the end, it’s all about putting student safety first and making the best decision they can with the information they have.
In Hockinson, the elementary school starts first at 8 a.m. so the superintendent and his team try to have a decision made by 5:15 or 5:30 every morning to give families enough time to plan ahead for any changes in the schedule.
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