Galva superintendent talks school cancellations

Doug O'Riley, Galva School District Superintendent
Doug O'Riley

(Ed. Note —As of Wednesday (Jan. 30), Galva schools have been in session just once in the lastseven school days, and that day resulted in an early dismissal on Jan. 24. In conjunction with the recent prolonged blast of winter weather, Galva Superintendent Doug O’Riley provided this guest column detailing weather-related school closings.)

Galva School District has 111 square miles and about 225 students who ride a bus to school.

Most days, the roads are fine, and transportation to and from school is taken for granted. On occasion, the weather forces me to make a decision to cancel school, rather than risk unsafe travel.

Sometimes the decision to cancel is an easy one, and can be made 12 or more hours in advance. Other times, the decision to cancel is a more difficult choice, and is not made until just before buses leave for their 6 a.m. routes.

As Superintendent of Galva Schools, I always know a safe road during the last week of May is better than a hazardous one in January or February.

The easiest cancellation decisions are made when the National Weather Service issues a Warning, which is worse than an Advisory.If there is a Blizzard Warning, a Winter Storm Warning, a Freezing Rain Warning, or a Wind Chill Warning issued before the start of a school day, school will be cancelled. If those warnings don’t take effect until the afternoon, school will be dismissed early.

The harder decisions usually involve an Advisory. When a Winter Travel Advisory is issued, the National Weather service sends a 4:15 a.m. message to superintendents advising them of the current conditions and the forecast.

Often times, I follow that message with a drive around the area to see the road conditions for myself. Additionally, I call the Galva Transportation Director, Travis Spivey, to get his opinion regarding bus travel, and the condition of our own parking lots and sidewalks. At that point, I have a solid decision in mind for Galva. Around 5:15 a.m., I start texting the superintendents of neighboring rural schools. We all use the same process, and most times we come to the same decision.

When Fog Advisories and Wind Chill Advisories are issued, school will be in session. During foggy situations, buses will likely travel slowly and run late. During Wind Chill Advisories, recess will be inside. Heavy coats, hats, and gloves are a necessity for travel to and from school. Absences are excused if parents keep their children home during a Wind Chill Advisory.

It is rare for me to use a one- or two-hour delay. For that delay to be effective, road conditions need to significantly improve in a short period of time. There are times when snow plowing might be finished after just a couple more hours of work, or a warmer rain might follow icy conditions prior to 9 a.m. And, I think it is easier for families to plan to have their children home all day, rather than trying to arrange for an unusual start time.

Extra-curricular activities also pose a problem when there are poor road conditions.

Galva schools do not allow practices before 3 p.m. if school has been cancelled. But, if conditions have improved by 1 p.m., a decision is sometimes made to allow late afternoon practices and evening contests.There are never extra-curricular events scheduled if one of those winter warnings have been issued for the evening.

This year has already had more cancellations than any year in the last 15. The state requires each district to build five snow days into the school calendar. Those five days have already been used, and the last school day for this year will be May 30.

Hopefully our streak of bad winter weather will come to an end, and school will resume being a daily occurrence we can all take for granted.