A spring blizzard means waking in the wee hours for those who make decisions about snow days for schools.
For Natrona County School District and Converse County School Districts 1 and 2, where schools were open Tuesday, wind, snowfall, ice and forecasts are the major safety factors officials take into account.
Natrona County School District Transportation Manager Sydney Webb woke at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday and checked reports on road closures, advisories and forecasts. Then he drove some main thoroughfares to test if bus travel would be safe. A foreman tried the road between Casper and Midwest, where buses ended up running two hours later than usual. Some rural areas had no bus travel.
The decision also requires 40 to 50 phone calls to sources that include the city of Casper, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Casper College and other school districts.
“It’s not a decision we take lightly,” Webb said.
“Our first priority is safety and making sure we can have confidence we can get kids to and from school in a safe manner,” said NCSD Superintendent Joel Dvorak, who makes the final decision.
Either decision results in unhappy parents, school officials in Natrona and Converse counties said. Tuesday was no exception.
Andrea Brown said she thought it should have been a snow day as she picked up her two girls from Park Elementary School.
"The roads were terrible," she said, citing congested traffic and deep snow. Another daughter missed a Casper College class because she couldn't get out of her driveway, Brown said.
Chris Edmunds decided to keep his children home after seeing car accidents while he was plowing snow. Edmunds, who owns Oil City Paving, saw two cars slide into each other and another slide into an island. The drivers weren't careless, he said.
“I realize it’s a Wyoming snow storm,” Edmunds said, “but it’s not worth risking the safety of my children for a day of school.”
But Robin Thunder-Tophia remembers Wyoming winters when the snow would would pile to heights above hear head against the front door, and it was minus-40 degrees for a month. She didn't mind driving her daughter to and from Park Elementary School on Tuesday.
"I just have to watch out for the other drivers," she said.
Park Elementary parent Jeff Hymas said he wasn't upset, but wondered if the decision had to do with students taking standardized tests.
"If there is ever a snow day, why wouldn't this be a snow day?" he asked.
"I thought they got confused or something," his son Carter, 9, said. "I thought for sure it would be a snow day."
Shannon R. Gerdel is a former professional truck driver and concerned citizen. He said high school students shouldn't have been driving in Tuesday's weather and feared for the safety of students on buses.
"Why in the world would we put students and staff in a bus on roads we know we can ice skate on?" he said during a phone conversation.
Parents may choose to keep their children home, all three superintendents said. Some live in less passable areas or may not be experienced driving in snow, Dvorak said.
“We try to err on the side of caution,” said Dan Espeland, superintendent at Converse County School District 1 in Douglas. Either way, some parents are upset when school continues. When it's closed, he receives calls from frustrated parents having no trouble on roads but scrambling to find child care. In his district, five rural schools closed Tuesday and the rest remained open.
Espeland didn’t have an attendance count for Tuesday but said it likely was low. But attendance also tends to be low on make-up days, he noted.
Drew Walker is the information technology manager for the Natrona County School District. He said 4,839 of 12,424 students were absent Tuesday. By comparison, 2,268 students were absent Monday.
Kirk Hughes, superintendent of Converse County School District 2 in Glenrock, said schools were open but no buses traveled outside the Glenrock and Rolling Hills areas. A district count there tracked 127 of 684 students as absent.