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Superintendent explains school's storm protocol

School closures, school delays and buses not running have all prompted Kenmare Public School Superintendent Duane Mueller to announce the school’s position on our unprecedented snowfall.

1/10/17 (Tue)

Snow harvest . . . A Ward County Highway Department employee takes snow off Kenmare’s Sixth Street, also known as Ward County Highway 2, Monday with a massive snow blower and augers it into a truck. Monday's snow removal project is part of Ward County’s emergency snow removal declaration primarily because numerous rural and township roads are either blocked or frequently drift shut.

By Marvin Baker

School closures, school delays and buses not running have all prompted Kenmare Public School Superintendent Duane Mueller to announce the school’s position on our unprecedented snowfall.

Classes have already been postponed two days and the way Mueller explained it is the first day is essentially a grace day and it will not have to be made up.

The second, however, will be made up on Easter Monday, April 17.

“If we miss another day, the second make-up day will be May 26, that’s a Friday,” Mueller said. “Any more than that and we have two choices – we can extend the day an additional half hour and it would take 12 days to make up the one we missed, or we can have school on Saturday. These are our options.”

And once those options have been exhausted, the next step is to lobby the governor for forgiveness.

Mueller said he has looked at long-term forecasts and believes there is a pattern that will continue to bring us inclement weather. He said he hopes he’s wrong on that account, but things are stacking up that way.

“This is unchartered waters,” Mueller said. “And we’re all in this together. Businesses, mail carriers, it doesn’t matter. We’re all in this together.”

In addition to the make-up day protocol, Mueller explained that when the decision is made to not send buses out, or when buses are two hours late, it’s of no consequence to the students because it’s out of their control. In other words, they would not be expected to have to make that time up.

“We’ve had parents that brought their kids, but some couldn’t get out of their yards,” Mueller said. “Does it effect learning? Yes, because those kids who miss have to play catch up and you don’t want the staff to waste a day with fewer students, so yeah, it does effect the process.”

However, Mueller commended the staff on already working through some of those hurdles and making those out-of-routine school days challenging for the students who do make it to school.

“I visit with our drivers and I really trust them on their judgment about their roads,” Mueller said. “If they think they can go, I trust them and we go. I’m relying on their expertise to make that decision.”

During our interview with Mueller on Wednesday afternoon, he said some rural roads remained blocked and were impassable.

But for those roads and yards that aren’t drifted shut, Mueller said the drivers will make their best attempt to get there.

“There’s good communication between the drivers and the parents,” he said. “That’s important because the last thing we want is to have a bus load of kids stranded. It could take an hour to reach them, depending on where they are.”

He added, that’s why it’s critical to have any student riding a bus to dress appropriately for the weather conditions, or have the necessary winter survival gear in their backpacks, just in case.

Storm homes

Since it appears likely we’ll have more blowing and drifting of snow this winter, the school is sending out a questionnaire to parents regarding their children staying in Kenmare should conditions deteriorate during the school day.

“It could be nice in the morning, but by mid afternoon, snow could block some roads,” Mueller said. “That’s why we’d like to say everyone who rides a bus should have a storm home.”

He also addressed those students who live in the country but drive their own vehicles to school.

If they are in school when weather turns nasty, it would be best if they too, stayed in Kenmare.

“If the buses don’t go, they shouldn’t go because we don’t want them stranded,” Mueller said. “I think high school kids would most likely stay with friends.”

According to the superintendent, a database is maintained at the elementary school so young children will have a place to go in town should they not be able to get to their farm after school.

However, that data doesn’t currently exist for the high school, which is the reason for the form going out to parents.

“When we get the form back, we want to create a database,” Mueller said. “That way we know and we’ll know the kids will be safe.”

Regarding the decision to start school later than its normal start time, Mueller explained that part of that equation is in making sure the staff can get to school.

With numerous out-of-town teachers and administrators, the possibility would exist that students would get to school before many of the teachers and wouldn’t immediately have leadership in the classrooms.

In addition, he added that it has occurred to him more than once that if the parking lot isn’t cleaned out, staff who don’t have 4-wheel drive vehicles may not be able to get into the parking lot.

Thankfully, Mueller said he hasn’t taken any complaints regarding the decisions to call off school, not allow the buses to run or start school two hours late.

“If someone complains, the first thing I will ask them is are you safe,” Mueller said.

Kenmare Public School uses three methods of emergency communication, hoping to cover all ground and get to everyone in the district.

There is an auto dial, an automated system that calls parents’ numbers and tells them school will be delayed or the buses won’t run.

Facebook is used because most everyone looks at the social media site to get instant information and Mueller added the information is also phoned in to KXMC, channel 13 in Minot and scrolled across the TV station’s “close line.”

Thus far, sporting events have not been affected, but if school is called off, so is the sporting event that day.

“Yet if we did, we have to consider when can we reschedule and are officials available,” Mueller said.

He considers Kenmare somewhat lucky since several other schools in northwestern North Dakota have already missed five days of classes.

The biggest issue, according to Mueller, is if people only take one thing away from reading this article, it’s that safety of the students and staff is the highest priority.

“We have to be proactive here, not reactive,” Mueller said. “We’re all in this together so let’s all work through it together.” ...  Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!