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Moorhead School District bad weather policy put into writing

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Moorhead School District bad weather policy put into writing
Fargo ND 101 5th Street North 58102

MOORHEAD – The Moorhead School District has for the first time put into writing its longtime policy for closing schools during severe weather – winter and summer.

The weather emergencies policy, which was presented Monday to the School Board for review, is part of a larger process to update the district’s emergency response protocols “and formalize them more,” district spokeswoman Pam Gibb said.

“Who’s responsible for what, when,” Gibb said.

Assistant Superintendent Brandon Lunak said student safety is “first and foremost” in the school weather closings policy, as is the safety of employees.

The district is 34 miles long and nine miles wide, with an irregular outline, Lunak said.

Many students ride a school bus. Others walk, drive themselves or are driven by others to and from school, he said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how rural the Moorhead School District is,” with students being picked up and dropped off in Georgetown and Sabin, Lunak said.

District officials will make their decisions keeping in mind winter weather advisories, winter storm and blizzard watches and warnings, visibility problems, dangerous road conditions and extreme cold and severe wind chill conditions, Lunak said.

Whenever possible, the decision to close or delay schools will be made by 9:30 p.m. the evening before, so the news can be disseminated on the 10 p.m. television news.

“We feel like we need to get that information out to our stakeholders as soon as possible,” Lunak said.

The decision to close can also be delayed until 6 a.m. the day of school, but decisions to close after that point must weigh the current and expected weather conditions and the time it takes to inform parents and safely get children home, the policy states.

The summer policy takes into account dangers from thunderstorms, tornadoes, flooding (flash flooding and street flooding), and extreme heat.

Board Chairwoman Cindy Fagerlie said it’s important to have the district’s bad-weather closings policies outlined so all know what they are.

“They’re important to a lot of people in our community,” Fagerlie said.

Having the policies in writing may also give district residents a better idea of the difficulties of making school closing decisions, given how fickle the weather can be here.

For one late-March storm, a blizzard warning tripped the decision to close schools in advance of the storm’s arrival. But the storm moved slower than expected and there was little snow in the metro area by the end of the school day. That prompted some area residents to question why area officials agreed to close schools that day.

“We won’t be able to please everyone” with the policies, Fagerlie said. “But we have to keep in mind the decisions are being made for our students.”

Helmut Schmidt
Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.
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