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The process for deciding whether to hold a snow day in Natrona County, explained

The process for deciding whether to hold a snow day in Natrona County, explained

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Winter Storm

Students hustle across the street near Natrona County High School in March 2015 in Casper. During storms, a group of Natrona County School District officials meet at 4 a.m. to decide if a snow day is warranted.

Ever been curious about how a school district — like, say, the Natrona County School District — decides whether to declare a snow day?

Say no more, officials at the district declared earlier this week, when they walked the Natrona County school board through the process.

It begins several days ahead of an anticipated storm, said Mike Jennings, the district’s executive director for human resources and its superintendent-in-waiting. Jennings explained to the board that current Superintendent Steve Hopkins calls together a group of administrators — including maintenance director Scott Honken and transportation director Sydney Webb — to study forecasts and discuss options.

The group will also coordinate with local and statewide agencies, like the state Department of Transportation, the city of Casper and the county.

At 4 on the morning of the storm, the group meets again to decide if the snow warrants a day off for Natrona County’s students. If the storm has fizzled out or is less severe than forecast, the group wraps up and the district sends out emails to the community to let them know that hopes of a snow day have been dashed and that school is happening.

But if the weather is concerning enough, the group of administrators meets again at 5 a.m. They’ll continue to talk with other agencies, with maintenance workers plowing school parking lots and bus lanes, while monitoring the storm’s progress.

All of this happens independent from the police declaring a snow day — which has more to do with police responses to car accidents — or the city closing shop for a day.

At this point in the morning, the district officials have five options:

The first is a full closure and a snow day for 13,000 kids. In this case, the superintendent decides the weather is too severe and the routes too snowy to traverse. Parents and guardians are contacted by 5:30 a.m.

The second is a late start, in which schools start later so plows have enough time to clear the roads. Parents and guardians are again contacted.

The third is an early dismissal. In that case, administrators determine that the roads are fine for now but that the worst of the storm will come as students are preparing to head home. A message again goes out.

Fourth, the officials could use a hybrid of the above choices. Rural schools — Midwest, Poison Spider, Red Creek — could be canceled, while Casper schools could have a late start or continue on as normal.

And finally, the worst-case scenario, at least for students hoping for a day off: The weather has cleared, the roads are plowed and school is on. No message goes out to all parents — the district has discovered parents simply look at the number and assume a snow day has been called without reading the message itself — but media is contacted.

Jennings, who told the school board Monday that he just learned about this process last week while shadowing Hopkins, said it’s comprehensive.

“It’s not as simple as looking out the window and saying, ‘We’re not having school today,’” he said.

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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