Last Friday morning, as snow flurries rendered roads with up to two inches of icy slush, frustrated parents began phoning into the Northshore School District and venting on social media.
At issue was the district's decision to have a two-hour delay to the start of the school day, as opposed to closing altogether.
Some parents voiced concerns that safety wasn't being given priority.
Others cited neighboring school districts that had cancelled classes for the day.
In an effort to inform the community on what happened and how these decisions are made, the Woodinville Weekly reached out to Leanna Albrecht, communications director for the Northshore School District.
"This is always a challenging decision," Albrecht said. "I don't envy (Superintendent Larry Francois) at all. It's always difficult. But we want to reassure families that safety is always our top priority when we make a decision. But we understand that some families can get irritated.
"When we did our assessments of the roads and reported back at about 4:30 a.m. for our district-wide communication, we felt that a two-hour delay and operating on bus routes would be safe and appropriate for us as a district. And that was based on the best information we had at the time.
"Other school districts made the call very late," she said. "Lake Washington made a call at 7 a.m. But we felt that changing the decision late once we had already communicated to families and made sure busses were chained and ready to go, could cause unanticipated safety issues for families especially if they had arranged child care or other issues that could have a safety impact on our students.
"So we stayed the course and kept with our original decision to do a 2-hour late. Our busses were chained and ready to go, and we moved forward with our snow bus routes."
No serious incidents involving district buses occurred during the morning commute of December 20th.
Generally speaking, when wintry weather is on the way, the Northshore School District springs into action up to 24 hours in advance. The steps involved are as follows:
1. NOAA weather forecasts are monitored the day before a storm is predicted and during the early morning hours.
2. The Winter Watch Committee is notified of the possibility of weather issues and prepares for road evaluations.
3. Dispatcher is notified around 3 a.m. by district staff who work the graveyard shift if weather affects road conditions.
4. Dispatcher notifies Winter Watch Committee members around 3 a.m. to begin road evaluations and report by 4:15 a.m.
5. Winter Watch Committee members drive around five sectors of the district checking on road and traffic conditions (downed tree limbs, electrical lines, or road hazards), walking conditions, driveway and parking lot conditions and whether buildings are functional (electricity, etc.) and report by 4:15 a.m.
The five sectors are:
Arrowhead - Inglemoor - Norway Hill - Westhill / Kenmore - Frank Love - Shelton View / Fernwood - Turner’s Corner - Kokanee - Woodin / Leota - Hollywood Hill - English Hill / Timbercrest - Dump Road - Mink Road
6. Committee members rate 8-12 key areas of their routes on a four-point scale: 1 - normal... 2 - minimal hazards present... 3 - moderate (difficult to negotiate)... 4 - severe (very hazardous)
7. Around 4:15 a.m. a recommendation about school operations is made based on the weather forecast, current weather conditions, input from neighboring districts and driving conditions
8. Around 4:15 a.m. the executive director of Support Services is notified of the conditions.
The executive director consults with the superintendent and makes a final decision.
When asked what common misperceptions exist among residents, Albrecht cited two: "One thing unique with Northshore is we have three cities and two counties," she said. "So we have multiple areas that are providing support and it's different in different areas of the district. We always make a decision based on the entire district. And so we try to make families well aware that you may look out your door and not see any snow or ice, but that doesn't mean it’s not treacherous in another part of the district.
"And let’s say you have a high school student who you may normally let drive to school, or you’ve got students you don’t want riding the bus, on inclement weather days you can excuse them from school.
"And it is excused. We want to stress that. Safety is our top priority."