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Our View: Snow Day brings delight, serious stress

“Snow Day.”

Two words that hold a world of perspectives within the Durango School District.

“Snow Day,” aka school closures, has little ones in pajamas, grinning wickedly and jiggling with energy over the promise of a day with cocoa, sledding and too much media. And parents, whose blood pressure skyrockets as they figure out child care, how to miss a workday and all that entails. Depending on parents’ workplace flexibility, “Snow Day” has caused expletives to slip out in front of schoolchildren. For these parents, a Snow Day is nothing less than a hardship.

Community members weigh in, too – the vocal ones without school-age children – as to whether students should just bundle up and waddle on icy sidewalks like they did back in the day.

School closure reactions are so varied and severe, 9-R has a place on its webpage “Snow Day Frequently Asked Questions” under the section: “I have strong feelings about this decision. How can I share my opinion?”

No doubt, school closures are weighty decisions. By the witching hour of 12 a.m., the city of Durango, Colorado Department of Transportation and La Plata County snowplow drivers are out keeping roads clear. By 4 a.m., CDOT, La Plata Electric Association and the city and county communicate with the Office of Emergency Management, and assess risks to public safety. OEM then calls the safety director with the recommendation – to close or not. (We imagine a lone landline, ringing loudly with the news. But it’s probably a cellphone.)

The scenario is like the Situation Room at the White House, with that aircraft-carrier size conference table and cushy chairs. But here, most people are working remotely in their homes, inevitably waking up family members because they’re talking too loudly.

By 4:30 a.m., district staff members report on road conditions. This includes the transportation director and staff members who commute from remote areas or those who arrive at schools very early. (Thank you, staff members who live in outlying areas and didn’t realize they would be called on for this altruistic task.)

To anyone considering a new betting venture, 5 a.m. is decision time for the superintendent and the safety director, based on input from 100-plus professionals and direct evidence from road reports.

When schools close, 9-R shares information by 5:30 a.m. via text, voicemail, email, social media channels, the district website and local media outlets with 13,644 people.

News of a Snow Day is embraced dissimilarly, depending on our situations and the microclimates where we live. Maybe it’s relatively balmy on your street with moonlight illuminating nonthreatening ice crystals. A walk to school would be through a winter wonderland. A few neighborhoods away, a stinging blizzard whips snow into walls of concrete-gray ice and deceivingly slick roads. A school bus ride in Wildcat Canyon would be treacherous.

Something else 9-R considers on its Snow Day FAQ page: individual commuters. “Consider this comparison: An inexperienced teenage driver in a two-wheel drive with worn tires will have a different risk factor than a longtime resident in a four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle.” So true.

The district will make up instructional time lost to Snow Days by extending the school day or using professional development days or adding days to the calendar beyond May 25.

On Snow Days, the frustration in parents’ voices is familiar to Karla Sluis, 9-R’s public information officer, who has lived the experience, juggling child care between two working parents.

Sluis works on Snow Days. Recently, outside her office window, she noticed a toddler, struggling to pull his sled to the top of the hill at Buckley Park. Finally, at the top, he dropped into a full body roll, small limbs pulled in tight.

Sluis watched the toddler pick up momentum, down the hill, until the snow finally softened his landing. “That’s what the parents will remember,” she said. “You have to roll with it.”