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StarBulletin.com

Shutting schools a tricky choice


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POSTED: Saturday, January 17, 2009

Deciding whether to close schools because of anticipated severe weather is like walking a tightrope, says one school official from a mainland district that is used to stormy weather.

               

     

 


"Closing a school is a big deal because it affects thousands of people. We're not quick on the draw to close a school."

Jack Gilletti
Assistant superintendent, Orting School District in Washington state

       

       

You do not want to put anyone's safety at risk, but if the closing turns out to be unnecessary, you can expect a flood of calls from angry parents, said Jack Gilletti, assistant superintendent of the Orting School District in Washington state.

"Closing a school is a big deal because it affects thousands of people. We're not quick on the draw to close a school," Gilletti said.

A severe winter storm closed schools all over Washington recently.

Many of the Orting schools are surrounded by rivers that can close bridges and strand people when they overflow.

The weather forecast for Jan. 7 was for heavy rain and potential flooding with the rivers expected to crest at 10 p.m. School officials along with fire, police and other emergency management officials decided to open school that day.

"We were hoping to get a full day of school. But as we were watching the rivers, they were rising faster than anticipated," Gilletti said.

 

 

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    So officials closed the schools at 11:30 a.m. They kept the schools closed the following day but reopened them Jan. 9.

 

In Seattle, school officials did not take any chances when they received a forecast of significant snow for Dec. 17.

Seattle Public Schools provide transportation for students who attend district schools. Before officials decide whether to close schools, they drive the streets to assess road conditions, said David Tucker, Seattle Public Schools spokesman.

Before they received the forecast, officials had already decided to delay the opening of schools for Dec. 17 because roads were icy, Tucker said.

After they received the forecast, officials decided to close the schools, and kept them closed for two more days.

The snow fell on surrounding areas on the first day but spared Seattle. The city got its share of snow the following two days.