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Snow closures: schools, mail and roads

January 15, 2014 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

A law Gov. Rick Synder signed in 2013 allowed school districts to add hours to the day, if they had to, instead of days to the school year if districts had too many snow days.

That law does not apply to this school year, however, and Superintendent Marion Ginopolis is prepared to make an appeal to State Superintendent Michael Flanagan over snow days if she has to.

"Usually they don't make that decision until after April 1," Ginopolis said. "If they say we have to add days and hours, I am going to appeal to the Department of Education because we have more days than we really need to have, so that will be the first route I take."

State law mandates each district to have 170 days and 1,098 hours of instruction each year. Because Lake Orion is "well over" 170 days, Ginopolis can legally submit an appeal. If the appeal is rejected, LO will have to make up the days.

Schools are allowed six snow days, and Lake Orion has already used seven in most of the schools, except Oakview Middle School that has eight days, and the year-round school Carpenter Elementary with only five. School was canceled district wide on November 18, 2013 for power outages, and November 19 for Oakview whose power still was not restored. Carpenter is up two days because they were not in session during two school closures.

School was closed December 20 before Christmas break for icy roads, then January 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8 were closed for the severe snow dump.

"We almost had one at Oakview today because of those back roads," Ginopolis said Monday.

Deciding to call off school can be one of the most difficult decisions to make, she added.

Usually if the weather is telling the night before, Ginopolis wakes up around 3 a.m. and contacts the LO building and maintenance folks, who are out driving the roads. By 4:30 a.m. all of the superintendents in Oakland County tune in to the pre-arranged conference call.

"The dilemma is that some districts in southern Oakland County are fine, and then those of us in northern Oakland County might not be, and vice versa. So usually I take my lead from what I see in our northern area."

Normally when Lake Orion closes, Clarkston, Oxford, Rochester, and Avondale close.

"The number one issue for me is never a number of days, its always transportation, can we get our kids safely to school. That's always a number one decision breaker for me," Ginopolis said.

She punches the LO school code online to notify news stations of the closure, notifies the bus garage before 5:30 a.m., sends out a school messenger by email, text and telephone, and sends a separate message to staff.

Then she unleashes on the social media, the school's twitter account, the website, her personal twitter account and Facebook page.

After 2 or 3 hours, the process is complete.

Then, the funniest part comes, with how many students follow Ginopolis on Twitter.

"As soon as I announce it on Twitter my phone starts going crazy with kids who are either re-tweeting it, or 'favorite-ing' it," she said.

The first day the kids were all excited. The second day there were things like, "we love you Mrs. Ginopolis, shout out to Mrs. Ginopolis, you're our hero."

"By the fourth day when they realized that exams were coming up, there were questions. My re-tweets got fewer and fewer, so I was laughing about that," she said.

Because of the extra six days of Christmas break, which Ginopolis has never seen before in her career as a superintendent, exams were pushed back a week

"Even my nephews and nieces who are in a different school district think I'm the one that calls them. They'll say, Aunt Marion, would you call a snow day in Birmingham today," Ginopolis laughed.

Many districts couldn't get their buses started, she added, but all Lake Orion buses started because the LO maintenance and transportation staff still went to school on the snow days to rotate buses on the heated blocks. "I'm really proud our buses were in good shape," she said.

Buses weren't the only concern in Orion Township last week during the whiteout.

Numerous citizens still reported no mail on January 10, nor garbage pickup, and are still getting stuck in their driveways.

On top of the 51 traffic accidents reported in the last 7 days, Oakland County Sheriffs are very busy checking dozens of road runoffs and helping drivers stuck on icy back roads.

The National Weather Service reported Tuesday's high at 42 degrees, with calculations of this weekend to dip back into the low 20s, a sign that this little warm spout was little indeed.

The weather significantly affected mail delivery, Postmaster JoAnna Zimmerman said from the Lake Orion Post Office. On Monday and Tuesday, January 6 and 7, several hundred deliveries were not made, and by Friday that week 100 deliveries were yet to move due to blocked boxes. During the bitter cold of the storm, Zimmerman did not allow her carriers out.

"We didn't want our carriers to break down in 20 below weather, not being able to get them out that was a safety concern," she said.

The fire department worked from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the first days of the storm, with close to 80 calls.

"This was a very significant storm, the last storm this size was 10 years ago," Fire Chief Bob Smith said, adding Orion Fire is fine-tuning their emergency plans.

"We're trying to make it more known to the people, if they do lose power, they need to stay warm," Smith said. "These are lessons learned form these two storms. We've always had it in the back of our mind, but we realize this time that we really need to fine tune it."

No deaths were reported during the storm, but a storm related fatality was reported from the Keatington Subdivision a few days later. A 67 year-old-man who had been shoveling snow was found dead in his driveway. Officials believe his death was weather-related.

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