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To go or not to go: Many factors in play when it comes to delaying or canceling school

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BEMIDJI — Choosing whether to cancel school, delay classes or simply proceed as scheduled is not an easy decision to make, the superintendent here said Wednesday.

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Bemidji Area Schools was among several districts that opted to delay the the start of school Wednesday because of dangerous windchills hovering at about 40 below.

“A kid standing at the bus stop for more than 10 minutes with wind chills that are that cold, it can be dangerous for them,” Superintendent Jim Hess said.

Hess said he talks with Greg Liedl, transportation director, between 4 and 5 a.m. as they debate snowfall totals, or in this case, extremely cold temperatures.

“My question is always, ‘Can we safely transport students to and from school?’” Hess said.

Ultimately, it is Hess who makes the call.

It’s his least favorite decision, he said, whether to cancel or delay classes versus holding them as scheduled because people have such varying opinions of what is tolerable.

“It’s a gray area,” Hess said. “I try to keep the kids’ and staff’s safety paramount in my decision-making.”

Hess said he most often will wait until the very early morning hours to make that call, as compared to area districts who may be more apt to make the decision as early as the night before.

With a district as large as Bemidji’s — it covers an area the size of Rhode Island — temperatures within its borders can fluctuate 6 to 12 degrees and factors such as visibility, winds and ice can vary greatly, Hess said.

“We have so many conditions that can change so rapidly,” he said.

Notifications

Guardians are notified of school delays or closing in a variety of ways.

Not only are notifications sent to various media, but parents can sign up for alerts through the district’s parent portal site, through which they can register for alerts via email, voicemail or text messaging.

Hess said about 6,500 parents and guardians were contacted Wednesday, as well as about 650 staff members, not including notifications to area schools such as charter and parochial schools and media organizations.

“All of that happened before 6 o’clock this morning,” he said.

The first people notified are usually transportation and food service staff, who are first on the road to prepare for their workday. They were contacted at about 4:45 a.m.

For those who did not receive notifications or would like to sign up, Hess said they should call the transportation office at 333-3225.

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