Late starts are ‘disruptive' for students, staff and families

The weather, road conditions and district's ability to clear walkways all factors

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Students across Eastern Iowa got to hit the snooze button on Friday, many for the third morning in a row.

In response to snowfall, school districts from Vinton-Shellsburg to Lone Tree canceled classes Wednesday and scheduled two-hour delays Thursday and Friday. For many students, it was nearly deja vu; districts across the state followed a Dec. 20 snow day with a late start on Dec. 21.

Katie Mulholland, superintendent of the Linn-Mar Community School District, couldn’t remember the last time she scheduled two late-starts in a row.

“We usually try not to do (two-hour delays) because they’re very disruptive,” she said. “They’re hard on parents and they’re hard on us too because we shorten down everything, all the academics, for the day.”

For Chris Dunn, parent of a student at Garfield Elementary School in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, a snow day or late start can mean rearranging his whole day. That district also had the one-two punch of a snow day and two late-starts this week.

“I had to work from home,” the computer programmer said. “If I had a different job, it’d be a problem. Definitely.”

Superintendents at the Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids, Marion and College Community school districts all touch base in the face of inclement weather to discuss conditions and next steps, even though their districts vary geographically. Mulholland opted to have the double delays this week because of the “horrible” status of the roads.

“The assessment was that some of the main thoroughfares that usually are clear, were not,” she said. “If this were March and there was sunshine, it might’ve been a different story ... With the sunrise still pretty late, it was not a good idea to start (on time).”

Mike Duffy, a supervisor with the Cedar Rapids Streets Department, said road salt isn’t melting snow and ice as quickly, because it doesn’t really work unless it’s 10 degrees or warmer. So crews have started adding calcium chloride to the mix that’s spread on streets. Calcium chloride is a more expensive chemical, won’t blow away like a lot of salt did after Wednesday’s storm and works to a limited degree in below zero temperatures.

Duffy said another problem is sunlight doesn’t hit every part of a road, and that’s one reason drivers will see clear areas of road, and then packed snow or ice.

When determining whether to have a two-hour delay or canceling classes completely, Mulholland took three things into account: the weather, road conditions and district employees’ ability to clear walkways and parking lots to accommodate students and staff in a timely manner.

“It just seems like any time there’s any kind of snow, they’re either out of school or have a two-hour delay,” Dunn said, noting that he lives within walking distance of Garfield so weather doesn’t present a school obstacle for his family.

Despite the disruptions, Mulholland said morning delays are preferable to calling off the entire school day.

“Generally (two-hour delays) are put into place so we can continue to have school,” she said. “There’s no sense in not having school if people can handle the road conditions two hours later rather than canceling the whole day.”

Another advantage to two-hour delays is that students and staff do not have to make them up, while for snow days, schools must hold class on a day previously designated as a no-attendance day.

Gazette reporter Dave Franzman contributed to this report.

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