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North Tama records eight consecutive snow days

February 7, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

Students, faculty and administrators at North Tama received a surprise second winter break as record-low temperatures and snow kept them out of school for nearly two weeks between January 22 to January 31.

"It has been quite a few years since North Tama has had this many canceled days within such a concentrated period of time, definitely not within my four years at North Tama," North Tama Superintendent David Hill said. "In all my years in school administration, I've never seen such widespread pattern of cancelation covering such a large area as I saw during the two days of record-breaking life-threatening temperatures that we experienced on Tuesday and Wednesday."

The chain of school cancellations started with snow and ice forming on roads on January 22 as Iowa experienced its first major storm of the season after having the day before off. With safety on the roads in mind, Hill and North Tama administration made the call to cancel school and athletics. The following days did not prove any better and began the stretch of days off.

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"I personally spent a lot of time on the gravel roads in our district over this past two weeks, and even with my well-equipped four-wheel drive truck I had difficulties and encountered numerous roads that were impassable," Hill said. "It just wasn't appropriate to send our buses on these roads, and in many cases, it wasn't appropriate to ask parents to bring their kids to the hard surface route locations. I know of several rural residents who were either stuck at home or couldn't get to their homes at various times over the past two weeks."

According to Hill, deciding whether or not to cancel due to snow is never an exact science. Windy conditions are looked at just as much as snowfall amounts. The timing of the storm can also play a part in cancellations as county snow plows might not be out in time to clear roads. Early dismissal or late starts are also options in these cases. Reduced visibility due to blowing snow or fog, is considered to judge "the appropriateness of having our buses and young drivers out on the roads."

"As for temperatures, real temperatures in the teens below zero increase the likelihood of buses not running well due to diesel fuel gelling issues," Hill said. "The National Weather Service has a 'Wind Chill Frostbite Chart' that takes temperatures and wind into account, but when it gets to the expected 10 minute frostbite time' for exposed skin - which is generally when it gets into the 30s below zero for windchill, we will typically cancel school or have a delay if it's expected to warm up to a safer level by mid-morning."

While administration knows parents' schedules and child care issues can make canceling or delaying school a hassle at times, student safety is a priority when making weather-related decisions. Hill commented the community has been very supportive of the decisions that have been made. Students finally returned to school on February 1 with buses on hard surface routes only.

"At the present time, Tama County tells us that they have plowed at least one direction on every gravel road in the county that has residents," Hill said. "While I wasn't comfortable sending buses down those roads just yet, since the county had opened at least one lane we felt that it was appropriate to ask parents on these roads to bring the kids to the main roads."

The school board-approved calendar included two snow makeup dates, with additional missed days being added to the end of the calendar. One of these built-in makeup dates had already passed before the snow days and North Tama "will most certainly" use the makeup day on May 3. Hill is sure the board will discuss our options for more days, but will not make final decisions until the district is "relatively confident" no more snow days need to be added.

As for high school seniors, Hill referenced Iowa Code 279.10, which states, "the school district or accredited nonpublic school may excuse a graduating senior who has met district or school requirements for graduation from attendance during the extended school calendar."

"The law does require that there be a board policy to excuse seniors from making up 'snow days.'" Hill said. "North Tama's board policy states that the board may excuse graduating seniors from making up days missed due to inclement weather if the student has met the school district's graduation requirements. So, as long as all graduation requirements are met, the seniors will not need to make up these missed days."

Administration has their fingers crossed that no further cancellations due to the weather are necessary going forward in 2019.



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