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Ice, snow force school closures for two days

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Island Residents Lottie MacAulay, in green, and Christina Scalzo enjoy an afternoon of backyard sledding along North Mercer Way. Mercer Island schools were canceled due to inclement weather last Wednesday. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Island Residents Lottie MacAulay, in green, and Christina Scalzo enjoy an afternoon of backyard sledding along North Mercer Way. Mercer Island schools were canceled due to inclement weather last Wednesday.
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How can a school district issue a “snow day” when little to no snow covers the ground?

It starts as early as 3 a.m., when maintenance and transportation administrators with the Mercer Island School District evaluate road conditions on Mercer Island.

This week, roads weren’t too bad.

But the next step is to consider outlying areas and whether enough staff can get to the Island to make for a meaningful school day. The majority of the district staff -- 65 to 70 percent -- lives off Island. School days don’t run well without staff.

“That was the tough part about this storm, was the outlying areas,” said Tony Kuhm, assistant director of maintenance. “That was pretty much what led us to go the direction that we went.”

Given that most of the staff lives off the Island, many in areas where icy conditions left people unable to travel from their neighborhoods, administrators decided that holding school would not be effective.

“If only a few people can get here to teach, if only some of the bus drivers can get here, the effectiveness of the school day is lost,” said Superintendent Cyndy Simms.

Students spent Tuesday and Wednesday out of school before returning Thursday, when warmer temperatures melted snow and ice around the Seattle area.

“Today not only were our roads in pristine conditions, which was pretty much the way it was through most of the closure days, but the overwhelming issue that carried the day for being open today was that Bellevue was open,” said Ray Brautigam, MISD transportation director. “Renton had a couple hills that were bad but for the most part they felt as though it was pretty decent for their folks to get in. So I try to measure the surrounding school districts and what they’re doing.”

Teachers are contracted to teach 180 days per school year, so the district will negotiate with the Mercer Island Education Association to determine when to make up the two days missed this past week. Those are typically made up during breaks or at the end of the school year. Simms said it’s most likely to be at the end of the year, but the MIEA and district will discuss it before taking recommendations to the school board for approval.

Though late-night snow Wednesday night suggested the possibility of a third snow day, Thursday the district welcomed students and staff back.

“In many cases, over more days people are more prepared to come in because they’ve already chanced to go off their own property,” Brautigam said. “Just having that reprieve of time to get used to what’s going on can give them a better sense of how they’re going to get in. So it was a good call.”

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