While closing school last week in deference to the worst winter storm seen in these parts for quite some time may have seemed like a no-brainer, most times it is anything but for area school district officials. In fact, when The Citizen contacted officials from the four public school districts in Platte County, we learned that it’s a much more difficult decision than meets the eye. All four superintendents who responded to our inquiries spoke to many factors that help them not only determine when or if to cancel classes, but also how to deal with the impact snow days have on the calendar year. At Platte County R-3, Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said there are many variables that factor into his decision, but the main one is to make sure students and staff are safe. “Our goal is to have school, if we can do so safely,” Reik said. “This determination is not an exact science, so it is usually met with approval and disapproval from our parents. That being said, we make the decision that we believe serves the best interests of all.” Reik said the process varies depending on the weather — which he and other district officials monitor closely — but usually begins with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rob Gardner and transportation director John Byrne driving roads throughout the district to determine their condition. Once that is done, other districts consulted and a decision made, Reik said the district employs its communication plan: text alerts, notifications to media, etc. Another factor that Reik alluded to is the extensive R-3 bus fleet, which includes 36 active buses that collectively cover thousands of miles each day. Reik said the R-3 buses perform well due to their weight, but diesel fuel can sometimes cause issues. “Cold weather can be tough on buses but fuel additives have helped prevent diesel fuel from ‘gelling’ up,” he said. “But extreme cold is still a challenge for some buses, no matter the additives, and definitely tough on operations staff.” Reik also gave a shout out to the bus drivers and mechanics that make the R-3 transportation system go. “Their contributions go largely unnoticed when things are going well; that’s the nature of their jobs,” he said. “When we have inclement weather challenges – whether we have school or not – their contributions are front and center. We are so thankful for the efforts of our operational staff members during inclement weather.” Reik also touched on a few other observations, one dealing with student well-being and the other social media. “We have some students that rely on the school breakfast and lunch program for wholesome nutrition – I worry about these students on snow days,” he said. Reik said social media has changed the way he interacts with not only patrons but students. “Social networking has changed snow cancellations – opinions are aired on these various mediums,” he said. “I have a large following on Twitter due to primarily high school student interest in our decision.  I have used this new found ‘popularity’ to send positive messages to students and promote other important Twitter accounts (like PCHS counselors).  I have enjoyed the interaction with our students via Twitter.  Interestingly, this digital format may seem impersonal but actually allows me to connect with students in a way I could not possibly hope to otherwise.” Reik said so far this school year, the district has had five snow days: Jan. 6, and Feb. 4 through 7 last week. School districts on a traditional calendar are required by the state to hold classes 174 days and are also required to have six snow days built into the schedule. Based on the amount of days the district will “make up” Reik said the final day of R-3 classes is tentatively set for May 28. Park Hill Superintendent Dr. Scott Springston echoed Reik’s sentiments about safety as the primary concern. “We take each snow day individually, and we cancel if we cannot safely transport students to school, even if it means making up more snow days,” he said. “There is no set temperature or number of inches of snow that triggers a snow day. Rather, we look at all the factors, from temperature to road conditions, and make our decision.” Park Hill does not have as many snow days to make up – it was the only school district in Platte County to hold classes last Friday. As it stands now, the District’s final day of classes is set for May 30. The processes for North Platte Superintendent Dr. Jeff Sumy and West Platte Superintendent Dr. Jerrod Wheeler begin much like Reik’s and Springston’s – follow the weather forecast closely, drive the roads and make a decision keeping the best interests of students in mind. “I monitor the weather forecasts leading up to a weather event,” Sumy said. “The technology today allows us a few extra days to prepare. I maintain contact with the other superintendents in neighboring schools, as the weather tends to vary depending on the location. Since our District is comprised of 113 square miles, I may not be able to traverse every road, but maintain contact with the bus company to obtain feedback as to if the busses can make their run. I try to make the decision early enough for parents to plan for daycare for their children.” Sumy said North Platte has canceled classes due to weather seven times so far this year. The North Platte Board of education authorized the District to make up one of those days by holding classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 20 and on President’s Day Feb. 17, both originally scheduled as days off. Sumy said he has a plan to make up the other five days. “I will propose we use the two days in our calendar above the minimum 174 days as snow days and then add the remaining three days on the end,” he said. Sumy said North Platte’s original last day of classes was May 16, which has now been pushed to May 21. Of course, there could always be more inclement weather, forcing more snow days – in fact, Wheeler is banking on it. “My best guess is we will have another stretch of missed school due to another storm before all is said and done,” he said. Wheeler said West Platte has closed five days due to weather, with four of those days coming last week. Like North Platte, one day was made up on MLK Day. West Platte’s original last day was May 22, now it is May 28. Wheeler said in addition to possible weather cancellations, school could be closed if the top-ranked and West Platte boys basketball team makes a return trip to the state final four in Columbia, set for March 13 and 15. If that happens, Wheeler said another day could be added to the calendar, which, as it stands now, would make the final day to May 29. Any additional snow days could push the calendar into June. “Worst case scenario, we will be in school until Thursday June 5th, if we miss the max days due to weather and make it to state – I think there is a good chance both could happen,” he said. “Attending school past Memorial Day and possibly into June is probably not too popular among most people. But, because of the way most schedules fell this year, districts had very few days for make up before Memorial Day.  We knew when the calendar was set that this could happen, and it appears Old Man Winter got his way.”