From the Office of the Superintendent, Sparta Area School District
First of all, I would like to apologize, both personally and on behalf of the Sparta Area School District for the way the late start notification occurred this morning. Ultimately, the responsibility for whether or not to delay or cancel school rests with me. I would also like to explain why events this morning unfolded like they did and discuss the steps we will take to ensure that this experience is not repeated.
At 4:45 am, the temperature was -21 degrees F with projected temperature of -13 degrees F by 6:00 am. Board Policy Article 416 reads that the “threshold” level, which is the point “at which severe cold will be considered as a factor in closing schools in conjunction with other relevant factors” is -25 degrees F and -35 degrees F wind chill “as measured at the Sparta Airport at 5:00 am.” We had not reached that point. We contacted Tomah Area School District to find out whether they were delaying or canceling (part of our normal procedure), and they were running normally and on schedule. We contacted Lamers Bus Lines at 4:50 am, and they expressed some concern about the temperature. Lamers confirmed that they had winter fuel in the buses and also had extra buses and drivers on hand in the event of bus failures. The first bus issues occurred at approximately 6:10 am with two buses. Earlier this week, we had five buses fail and we were able to get students to school with minimal delays.
At about 6:40 am we received word that 10 or more buses were failing. Some students had been picked up; others had not. We had to make a decision at that point with the following factors in mind:
- Buses were failing at a rate much higher than anticipated;
- Some students were on buses;
- If we continued to pick up students and a bus failed, that would put students at risk if we could not get a replacement bus out immediately;
- We knew that some students were already making their way to school who were not bus riders, either on foot or by car.
The first consideration is the safety of students. Continuing to put students on buses would have been more dangerous than having them stay home. Students already on buses may have parents who were already gone from home, so taking students home was not a reasonable option. We also knew that students were en route to school, so having buildings open and supervised was also a priority for student safety.
The second consideration was communication. It was late enough in the morning (nearly 7:00 am) that we knew messaging was going to be problematic. Weighing the safety considerations against the messaging challenges, I chose to delay school as the best option for student safety at the time.
Meadowview was opened immediately upon the decision to delay school so that buses with students on board would have a safe place to be. All students at Meadowview were fed breakfast and given the opportunity to watch a movie in the gym or study/visit in the commons area. Lamers made the decision to send Pre-K students on buses home because those students must be dropped off in the presence of an adult. Pre-K teachers made phone calls home to parents to check in and communicate the morning’s events. All school buildings were opened and staffed as soon as possible so that students arriving early would be warm and supervised.
In order to make the 2nd bus run for the 10:00 am school start time, Tomah Area School District sent over 12 buses to help us transport students. Buses arrived at Meadowview by 9:30 to transport students to their school.
There is learning to take away from this experience. As a result of this morning’s events, the following actions will be taken moving forward:
- We will review today’s events to determine where changes in our cancellation/delay procedures are needed.
- We will address the bus failures and increase communication about the readiness of buses with Lamers Bus Lines.
- We will inform families about how to sign up for text and email notifications.
- We will recommend changes to Board Policy Article 416 so that we have more flexibility when determining whether or not to delay or cancel school.
Thank you to the staff and administrators who worked this morning with our early arrivals, supervising, serving meals, and contacting parents. Thank you to the Tomah Area School District for generously sending over buses to help us get students to school for the delayed start.
Any students absent today due to weather will be marked as excused. We will make a decision regarding start time for Friday, January 5 prior to 5:15 am.