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The facts of Snow Days

Lake Orion Schools Suoerintendent Marion Ginopolis at the wheel (click for larger version)
February 06, 2013 - Perhaps the happiest news a child can receive is that school has been cancelled due to inclement weather.

But while snow days may bring joy to some, to others they are serious business.

"It's the one part of my job that I dislike most," said Marion Ginopolis, Superintendent of Lake Orion Community Schools. "It's a very difficult decision and one I take seriously."

Though ultimately she is responsible for the safety of Orion students, luckily she's not alone in the decision making-process.

When weather reports indicate trouble is coming, Ginopolis begins her day at 4:30 a.m. with a conference call between all 28 county superintendents and designated weather bureau people.

Simultaneously, she directs several members of her staff to drive around the district in the morning.

"We have to make a call before 5:30 a.m. because that's when the secondary buses start warming up. So while I'm on this conference call, my other ear is communicating with my staff driving around in the district," Ginopolis recounted.

Then, based on the advice of her staff, she makes the decision whether it is safe for buses to transport kids.

It is beyond her power to control the choice some make to drive personal vehicles to school, however "bus transportation is available to anyone who wants it," she clarified.

Some days are easier calls than others, Ginopolis explained, and of course weather and road conditions can vary within the county.

"Clearly, northern Oakland County weather decisions may be very different than southern Oakland County. A lot of time you'll see that Holly and Brandon are closed but no one else is, and that's because they have so many back roads."

She said that the past week held two very good examples of the range of conditions that can affect her decision. On Monday Jan. 7, conditions were obviously bad enough to cancel school. Though she said that call was a "no-brainer," matters were different the next day.

On Tuesday, approximately "90 percent of the district bus routes were ok because they were on paved roads, but 10 percent of the back dirt roads froze up."

These back roads became impassable as rain and rising temperatures began to melt the ice, but weren't as "bad until we had the buses rolling," Ginopolis said.

While most buses completed their routes without incident, the back roads became treacherous and as a result four or five buses ended up in ditches, she revealed.

In Michigan, school districts are allotted three snow days per year. Any additional days missed have to be made up at the close of the school year.

This factor doesn't influence her decision, she insisted.

"I don't make my decision based on how many days we have left over."

Staying open a few extra days would have a minimal affect on school costs, but even if it bore a significantly greater cost, Ginopolis reasoned, would she exchange that "for the safety of kids?

"No way."

Ginopolis, a mother of two and a life-long education professional, said she takes her responsibility to parents and students very seriously.

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