Snow Job

John Loveless uses a front-end loader to clear the piles of snow in front of his and other businesses along the east side of South Main Street Wednesday afternoon. About 9 or 10 inches of snow fell in the St. Clair area last weekend, and it took crews and individuals days to get streets, parking areas and driveways cleared.

Lonedell R-XIV School District Superintendent Jen Ulrich said “worrisome” is a better word than “frustrated” in describing her feelings on the inclement winter weather that invaded the area last weekend and forced her to cancel classes for the entire week that followed.

Lonedell missed all five days of school this week. St. Clair R-XIII and several other districts in Franklin County were not in session through Thursday after nearly a foot of snow fell last Sunday and was followed by frigid temperatures and unsafe road conditions.

“Parents are probably more frustrated than I am,” Ulrich said. “I think worrisome is a better word for me because here we are only in the beginning of January and we already have had several snow days this year.”

The exact number in R-XIV is seven, which means, according to the district’s calendar, makeup days already are being tacked on to the end of the scheduled academic year.

St. Clair is at five snow makeup days through Thursday, which also means an additional day will be tacked on to the end of the school year.

“I learned a long time ago it is what it is,” St. Clair Superintendent Mike Murphy told The Missourian on Thursday afternoon. “You always want to do what you think is in the best interests of the students and everyone involved. You just have to take one day at a time.”

Both superintendents said the decisions to cancel school on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week were “no-brainers” because of the weather and road conditions.

“When you’re dealing with significant snowfall and then dangerous temperatures, you have to use caution and not take chances,” Murphy said.

Ulrich said she herself could not get out of her own driveway earlier in the week, and a downed power line across Highway FF left Lonedell School without power most of Tuesday. The school also experienced both a water line and heater freezing in recent days.

“It’s a little scary that we’re going through all of this right now,” Ulrich said. “We’re just having so many snow days so fast.”

Later in the Week

Both she and Murphy said Thursday was a tougher call because road conditions had improved. The decision was difficult again for Ulrich concerning Friday.

She said, however, that after consulting Wayne Wagner of BK Bus, the local company that provides transportation services to Lonedell R-XIV, the decision was made to cancel school on Thursday and Friday

“We’re always going to err on the side of caution,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich said both she and Wagner drove some bus route roads and determined conditions were still too risky.

“It’s all about safety,” she said.

Murphy echoed his colleague’s sentiments and said he and some staff did a thorough study of road conditions on Wednesday evening before deciding to cancel school on Thursday.

“When you’re dealing with a wide geographic region, some will be able to get out while others won’t,” he said. “That makes things more challenging, but safety both in and out for everyone is the priority.”

Conditions did improve enough for St. Clair to have school on Friday. In fact, Lonedell was the only district in the county not to conduct classes that day. However, Lonedell is one of the county’s most rural districts that features many secondary roads.

Both Murphy and Ulrich issued a daily phone blast to district patrons starting Sunday afternoon to announce the following day’s cancellation. On Wednesday afternoon, Ulrich injected a little bit of humor into her message.

“This is what has now become your daily call from your local superintendent,” Ulrich said in her phone blast. “We will once again not be in session tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 9, due to poor road conditions.”

Her message on Thursday night that announced Friday’s cancellation told listeners to hope for sunshine over the weekend.

Ulrich told The Missourian, however, that she actually prefers the snow days being tacked on to the end of Christmas break instead of later in the year.

“There’s no interruption to the education process now,” she said. “We haven’t started the second semester. There is less disruption of learning.

“I think it’s more difficult for the students if that learning process has to start, then stop, then start up again. Any kind of disruption always is difficult.”

Murphy said he just wanted to get school going again so the students and staff “can get back into the routine.”

St. Clair R-XIII is expected to start rolling out its one-to-one digital initiative early this semester by distributing Google Chromebooks to all junior and senior high school students. The initiative is designed to complement textbook learning and open the world as a learning tool through the Internet.

“It’s just taking a while longer than expected to get going,” Murphy said. “We just always want to make sure we utilize caution and use our best judgment to make decisions like this.”