LWSD uses multiple strategies to tackle harsh weather conditions | La Niña

With 51 schools in three cities within 76 square miles to oversee, Lake Washington School District (LWSD) officials do not have an easy job. And when the weather takes a turn for the worst, things get much more difficult.

With 51 schools in three cities within 76 square miles to oversee, Lake Washington School District (LWSD) officials do not have an easy job. And when the weather takes a turn for the worst, things get much more difficult.

Janene Fogard, deputy superintendent of operation services for the district, said they have a number of systems in place to tackle the challenges of inclement weather.

She said LWSD works with a local meteorologist who gives them localized forecasts, which are much more specific than what is broadcast to the general public.

Additionally, LWSD will look at the weather conditions on its four main hills: the Sammamish Plateau, Education Hill, Novelty Hill and Finn Hill. Fogard said because of the higher elevations, these areas are usually colder and have the worst conditions.

“We have the information and we work with the meteorolgist,” Fogard said.

To check the road conditions, Forgard said they have people drive around as early as 2 or 3 a.m. The drivers then report back to Fogard and her team to decide on how to approach the day, whether that means getting crews out to sand roads, scheduling late arrivals or closing the schools altogether.

“We have to make our call (by) about 5 a.m.,” Fogard said.

This is because LWSD must contact bus drivers who have the earliest routes and would be waking up and getting ready for work around this time. Fogard said these drivers receive a direct call at home to let them know what’s happening, while a phone tree system is used to inform the rest of the district.

Once a decision is made, Fogard said the information is posted on www.schoolreport.org and sent to the local news stations, who post the information during their morning broadcast. The information is also posted on the school’s website and an automated call is made to staff and families at home.

Fogard said they can’t do specific closures or delays at schools where the conditions are worse because it would affect the bus system, which she described as “one big web of a system.” She explained that for example, a driver with an earlier route may have an additional route later that would be affected if the route for the first school was delayed.

Fogard added that sometimes, the buses will run on snow routes because arterials are usually plowed and sanded before neighborhood streets. Because of this, Fogard said it is important for families to know what these alternative routes are. This information is sent home in late November and Fogard recommends posting it to the refrigerator or another easily accessible area so it can be found when needed.

If the weather goes bad during the day while students are in school, Fogard said the challenge is figuring out whether to send them home midday when no one may be home — especially at the elementary school age.

“We want to be sure kids are safe,” she said.

If the district decides to send students home midday, Fogard said they use various methods to get the information out and if parents aren’t available to pick up their children, schools will try to get a hold of that family’s emergency contact. This is information that is collected early in the school year. If a student has no way of getting home, Fogard said they will keep the child at school until the buses run.

During a windstorm with the possibility of a power outage, LWSD has facility crews that check early on whether buildings have power. Fogard said this is the one case where they will close or schedule a delay with specific schools. LWSD will usually work with Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to figure out when the power will come back on and plan accordingly.

If the power outage happens while class is in session, Fogard said they will usually run school until the end of the day, but they also keep in mind how the temperature is affected because they want to do what they can to keep students and staff comfortable.

In these cases, emergency planning kits are also available for students as the kits are part of students’ supply list every year. Additionally, Fogard said the district works with the PTSAs to provide water and snacks.

Fogard said parents should plan ahead and have a back-up plan for these situations and have alternative childcare options available in case they are unable to stay home. She also said parents should see that their children are dressed for the weather.

“Make sure that they dress warmly for the cold weather,” she said.

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