Ashland K-through-12 students who’ve spent the week sledding, sleeping in and binge watching “Stranger Things” should enjoy it while they can because they’ll be making up for the surprise snowcation by forfeiting a few T-shirt-weather days in June.
Ashland’s five elementary schools as well as Ashland Middle School and Ashland High School were scheduled to re-open their doors for the first time in 2017 on Tuesday, but a storm dumped 7 to 9 inches of snow throughout Medford and Ashland, leading to school closures on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — and again Friday, it was announced this evening.
Southern Oregon University’s winter term doesn’t begin until Monday, but both its Ashland and Medford campuses were closed Tuesday and Wednesday for the safety of staff. Both campuses reopened at 10 a.m. today.
Ashland School District has one make-up day (Friday, March 24) built into both its schedules — the district has a school year calendar for K-8 students and a separate one for the high school. Typically, one make-up day is enough, and often more than enough, in Ashland, where snow occasionally reaches the valley floor during the winter months but rarely accumulates beyond an inch or two. Not this year.
The extended winter break won’t go down as a freebie, however. As Ashland interim Superintendent Suzanne Cusick explained, the days will probably be tacked on to the end of the school year. In essence, students, whether they realize it or not, are trading their swimsuits for snowsuits.
“Oregon statutes require that ALL days will be made up,” Cusick said via email Thursday afternoon. “This year we will use Friday, March 24, as the first snow make up day. This snow makeup day is part of the regular calendar approval process. Because we are now in our required third make up day, the most likely scenario will be adding days at the end of the school year. We are scheduled to end on Friday, June 9. Instead, and upon input from staff and approval by the board, we will likely add the other two make days to the end of the year — June 12 and 13. I will notify parents and staff soon about make-up days so they can adjust any vacation plans they may have already made.”
Though the final decision regarding Ashland school closures and delays is made by Cusick, the district employs more of a committee approach, with Cusick, director of information technology Steve Mitzel and director of transportation Stacey Delgado sharing the responsibility. When poor weather is forecast, the three meet at 5 p.m. and try to come to a decision so the school can get the word out via automated calls, emails, the district website and social media as early as possible. By then, Delgado and other staff members will have driven through town enough to form an opinion.
The question they ask themselves is whether or not it’s safe for students, staff and buses to travel to school.
“We study weather forecasts, satellite pictures of storm fronts, and sometimes discuss with other local school districts to see what their data is telling them,” Cusick said. “If possible we make the call in the early evening and notify staff and parents by 7 p.m. via text message and phone calls.”
Occasionally, Cusick added, they have to wait until the early morning to decide. In those rare cases, Delgado has the unenviable task of personally testing the routes before the sun comes up at about 3:30 a.m., after which (by about 4:30) she contacts Cusick with the verdict. The expectation, in those cases, is to notify families of school closures by 6 a.m.
Each of the 23 buses in the Ashland fleet is equipped with drop-down chains, and the district’s nine regular bus routes cover a wide swath, including a 25-mile trek up the Greensprings and a nine-mile route up Dead Indian Memorial Road. Delgado estimates that about 400 students per school day ride Ashland school buses.
While the students have stayed at home, many ASD staffers as well as its maintenance crew and custodial workers have been hard at work. Director of student services Samuel Bogdanove said the building administrators try to show up in the morning if possible, and at least one staffer is on hand to keep a lookout for students who are dropped off by parents that don’t know school has been cancelled.
As of Thursday afternoon, Bogdanove said the district office, which sits adjacent to the high school off Siskiyou Boulevard, was mostly clear of ice and snow.
“We’re actually pretty good,” he said. “There’s a little bit out there right now, but they just finished salting and so it’ll probably be gone within a couple hours, I suspect.”
AHS principal Erika Bare said the campus still had plenty of snow on the grass as of Wednesday, but was getting safer by the minute thanks to the maintenance staff.
“It is gorgeous,” she said. “It’s a winter wonderland right now. The maintenance staff is working tirelessly (Wednesday) and were here (Tuesday) clearing safe walking paths for folks, plowing the bus ramps and I believe they’re going to make it out to the parking lots here and make sure that those are cleared for folks (Thursday). They spend a lot of time, because we’re an outdoor campus, making sure that we don’t ice over on the stairwells or the walking paths, so they’re out there with salt and everything and all of the other tools you need to make sure that it’s safe for kids walking back and forth. But it’s beautiful.”
SOU’s campus is similarly snow-kissed, and while students have not been affected its staff has. Director of community and media relations Joe Mosley said SOU also employs a collaborative approach to school closures and considers safety the top priority.
“The safety of our students and employees always outweighs other considerations,” he said. “We look at potential hazards in traveling to and from campus, as well as any risks that may exist on university property. If risks do exist, our Facilities Management crews address them. This morning (Thursday), for instance, walking routes around campus were all plowed or shoveled, and rock salt was spread on remaining patches of ice. I walked through campus on my way to work and there were no issues with footing — most of the sidewalks were bare and dry. If the facilities crews had been unable to sufficiently reduce risks to those walking between the university's buildings, yesterday's decision to reopen this morning would have been reversed.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.