SD2 hasn't canceled school in a quarter century

2014-02-28T17:00:00Z 2014-03-01T14:35:05Z SD2 hasn't canceled school in a quarter centuryBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

By Friday, nearly a foot of new snow had piled up in Billings, and it still wasn't enough for School District 2 to break its 25-year record of keeping classes open in inclement weather.

The last time SD2 cancelled classes for bad weather was in the winter of 1988/1989. 

"Some people think it's an easy decision," said Terry Bouck, SD2 superintendent. "I'll tell you, from personal experience, it's a weighty decision."

On Friday, Bouck was up before 4 a.m., making sure that buses were working and that drivers thought they could get around. He then checked with the district's facilities director to make sure all SD2 schools were safe, warm and dry, and that walkways had been cleared.

If the buses are running and the buildings are heated, school will likely be open, Bouck said. 

Still, numerous times this winter SD2 parents have gotten automated phone calls from the district telling them that if their kids live on a hill and ride a bus, they'll need to wait at the bottom of the hill. 

SD2 has 30 school buildings across Billings and all of them are within city limits and relatively close together. There are no rural bus routes to worry about or long treks on the highway, Bouck said.

In fact, it was concern for highway travel that prompted SD2 to cancel on Friday road trips to Butte and Great Falls for the high schools' boys basketball teams.    

"Safety is a real concern," Bouck said. 

At Elysian School, a single-school district southwest of Billings, Superintendent Lucas Larson looks at road conditions and building maintenance when the weather turns ugly. If the school's water is running and the heater is working, he'll keep the school open.

On Friday morning, roads were passable and the school was in good condition. But all day long, he watched snow fall on those county roads.

"I'm a little worried about this afternoon," he said. 

Elysian hasn't closed school yet this winter and for the most part parents in the district have been fine with that.

"This is Montana," he said.

East of Elysian, along the I-90 corridor, is Blue Creek School and Lockwood School. Both have to factor in SD2's decision on school closures when bad weather hits. 

Lockwood is a kindergarten through eighth-grade district, and high schoolers from the area attend either Skyview or Senior High in Billings. The district also uses the same busing company as SD2. 

"So in that sense, we have to defer to SD2," said Tobin Navasio, Lockwood superintendent. 

To reach students in Lockwood's Emerald Hills subdivision, which has a few steep inclines, the district has a four-wheel drive bus with automatic chains, which hang under the vehicle and then are pulled onto the tires when the driver deploys them. 

"It usually runs a little late on these snowy days," Novasio said. 

Blue Creek, a K-6 school district, sends students to SD2 middle schools and high schools. 

"But we're a little different," said Superintendent Cathi Rude. "We don't have busing."

Blue Creek hasn't yet canceled class this season but the school has given parents the option to keep kids home. Few parents have taken the option; most work.  

Bouck acknowledged that working parents is another factor that goes into deciding whether to cancel school. If school is open, students have a place to be warm and get both a hot breakfast and lunch, he said. 

On Friday, attendance at SD2 elementary schools was about 84 percent. At the middle schools it was 80 percent and at the high schools it was 75 percent. 

This is Bouck's second winter as SD2 superintendent and the first where he's really had to focus on inclement weather closures. As such, he's open to feedback from the community. 

"I'm willing to listen to suggestions," he said. 

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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