Oh, Snow!

The Olathe High Schools are required to make up missed instructional time due to snow days, changing the way schools function after spring break.


Hayley Adams and Abby Shepherd

Who doesn’t love a snow day? A day to sleep in, catch up on homework, and maybe hang out with friends. However, due to the unprecedented amount of snow days the Olathe School District has had this year, they are quickly becoming a headache for everyone involved.

On February 25th, the Olathe Public Schools Administration sent out a newsletter to staff, parents, and students. Since Olathe high schools are behind in student contact hours, their schedule will change in 4th quarter to ensure that the necessary time is met. According to the newsletter, Monday, March 18th, which was previously a Professional Day, will change to a full day of school for students in grades 9-12. Professional development will occur on this day for elementary and middle school teachers, but their students will not have to attend school. Each high school will also add 10 minutes to the beginning of each school day, starting the day at 7:50 a.m. There will also no longer be a Thursday late start, and classes on that day will start at 7:50 as well. Wednesday, May 22, which is the second day of finals for grades 9-11, will change from a half day to a full day.

The Olathe School District doesn’t have a tradition of adding extra school days at the end of the year, so discussions occurred between the district’s superintendent and his senior leadership team to decide how to gain back this lost time. “There will definitely be some extensions, a ten minute early start. We are checking our minutes with the state to make sure that the number we have so far is the number they say should be accurate,” Superintendent John Allison states.

The criteria varies when it comes to declaring a snow day, and sometimes snow isn’t even required, as was seen when Olathe schools were given a day off due to dangerously low temperatures. According to Athletics and Activities Director Tim Brady, “It all comes down to safety. If the roads, parking lots, and sidewalks are safe for students, staff, and patrons, our plan is to have school. Bus transportation is also factored into the decision.”

In order to make the most informed decision before declaring a snow day, district administration looks at the possible weather conditions early on. Since Kansas weather is often unpredictable, up to date forecasts are always necessary. Allison explained the process of consulting weather experts when severe weather is likely. “We contact meteorologists at the company Weather or Not who work 24/7. They will send us weather forecasts, and they’re available for us to call anytime,” he says. This expertise is helpful when the district has to make important decisions regarding the cancellation of school or extracurricular activities.

Once a snow day has been declared, students celebrate, knowing that they can sleep in the next day. However, for many district workers, their hard work has just begun. According to Brady, school custodial/maintenance staff usually has to come in to work on snow days, but it also depends on the weather conditions. “Typically they will come in to shovel the sidewalks and entry ways. The operations department staff takes care of plowing the parking lots,” he says.

Allison adds on, saying, “Employees who work on snow days usually need about 9-10 hours to clear sidewalks and parking lots to make them safe.”

The Food Services Division of the district also has to deal with the consequences of snow days. Scott Kingery, head of Food Services, describes what his division must do once they are aware of a snow day. “When a snow/inclement weather day is called, Food Services has a number of menus to reschedule and cancel.” He adds, “The typical protocol is on the first day back from the snow day, the food that had already been delivered to the elementary schools and the food that had already been loaded to be delivered to the secondary schools is served.”

Food Services also has to deal with the perishable food that would have been used on the snow day. Kingery states, “The food that cannot be served prior to its expiration date or before the quality degrades is typically donated to a food reclamation organization such as Harvesters.”

Kingery adds, “There is also a significant financial loss to Food Services because the ‘business’ of selling meals is closed on a snow day. No revenue is generated, but there’s still the full labor cost of a normal school day.”

Food Services employees occasionally have to come in to work during a snow day. “On one snow day this year, a few employees came to work to frost the thousands of brownies that had been baked the day before,” Kingery claims.

James Tarwater, a Pre-Calculus teacher, is in charge of all matters relating to the ACT exam at Olathe North, and he had to resolve the issue of the recently canceled ACT on February 20th. Students who were taking the ACT with accommodations took the test on February 26th, while students who were going to take the exam without any accommodations now have to take it on April 2nd. “All of the testing materials that we weren’t using for accommodations this week had to be packed up and sent in the mail,” he says.

Snow days can also cause many teachers to feel stress, especially AP or Honors teachers, who have to fit in all of their curriculum before end of the year exams. Some teachers have turned to flipped-classroom learning on snow days, or have sent out assignments for their students to complete through Google Classroom on their day off. “I post videos on Google Classroom as a supplement for absent students or if students need extra reinforcement, which actually allows me to go at a faster pace,” states Tarwater. He claims that he would consider teaching via flipped-classroom, but says, “I wouldn’t necessarily teach on snow days unless every teacher was required to do so.”

Allison states, “Right now with the current state statute we wouldn’t be able to count any of that time, so teachers instructing students online during a snow day wouldn’t help with make-up of minutes.”

In AP classes, many teachers want to stay on track so their students will be prepared for their final exams. Principal Jason Herman believes that flipped-classrooms would be beneficial, saying, “As we continue to expand our technology I think that it would be amazing for pacing, to allow our students to stay on track.”

Allison acknowledges that not every student has access to the Internet at home, but believes that something could be worked out in the future, saying, “Maybe in a year or two [flipped-classrooms] will be something we’re actually doing.”

A Student Perspective

Snow days are a divisive subject among teachers and students. Whether you adore them so you can play “Fortnite” all day, or hate them because your lesson plan gets messed up, we can all agree one thing: we’ve had a lot this year.

The flood of the 2018-2019 snow days began innocently enough on November 26th, our very first snow day of the year. Students were happy, and many teacher were as well. Little did they know however, that this was the beginning of a storm that would put the sanities of teachers up for debate. Since Jan- uary 22nd, we have had ??? snow days.

As you can imagine, the opinions of teachers and students on the abundance of snow days this year are differing. High School students, for the most part, love the snow days. Although most students enjoy them, manyhave admitted that the abundance of snow days have turned into a nuisance.

Kayla Vander Meer is an ON Freshman student who has some different views on the abundance of snow days. “They get kind of annoying after a while, honestly. They were fun at first, but when we start getting all of this catch up work for the snow days, it gets overwhelming quickly.”

The main way students find out about school cancellations is through social media; Twitter to be more specific. The Olathe Public school’s twitter has over 16,000 followers and they are always one of the firsts to announce school day cancellations, making their twitter very popular.

So you may be wondering, who is the person behind the Olathe Schools twitter? Is it John Allison (our superintendent) himself, or perhaps, a mysterious social media star teacher? Well, it’s actually Cody Kennedy, Olathe Schools Communications and Media Manager.

When asked if our tweets really make a difference on the decision to cancel school, Cody said “The only consideration for cancellations is the safety of the students, staff and patrons. Certainly tweets to and involving the district are monitored and read but safety is the only consideration as far as cancellations.”

Although it’s fun to tweet the district to convince them to cancel school, they really don’t make much of a difference. It’s important to remember to not send hate towards the school district when school isn’t cancelled. Snow days are supposed to be fun, so let’s keep them light hearted and not full of negativity.

Looking Deeper

Photo courtesy of Cody Kennedy
Cody Kennedy, Communications and Media Manager at Olathe School District

Question: What’s the process of deciding a snow day?

Answer: Discussions regarding any cancellations begin often days in advance of potential inclement weather. As weather forecasts can change at a moment’s notice and everysituation is different, a variety of factors are taken into consideration when canceling including temperature, precipitation, wind speed, wind chill, road and sidewalk conditions. There is no “magic number” in regard to a cancellation. Olathe Public Schools takes cancellations very seriouslyand staff members often workthrough the night to closely monitor conditions and then work diligently to inform the public.

Question: What is your role in decision to cancel?
Answer: Cancellations due to inclement weather take a lot of logistical work involving many moving pieces. My role as the Communication and Media Manager is to create messaging for the Olathe PublicSchools mobile app, social media and/or parents/staff. Ialso notify local news outlets of our decision to cancel.