Snow, slush shutter most area schools Wednesday

Erring on the side of safety, officials say it was an easy call

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Snow, rain cause havoc in Clark County

After waking around 4 a.m. Wednesday, Ridgefield Superintendent Art Edgerly double-checked weather forecasts, called officials with his district’s school bus co-op and then drove his truck on his city’s roads — all to determine if schools would open later that morning.

Four to six inches of snow and slick roads greeted him on his drive, making his decision to cancel the day’s classes a no-brainer.

“It’s just a safety issue” for students and staff, Edgerly explained later via phone.

School administrators and transportation officials across Clark County arrived at the same conclusion Edgerly did before daybreak. The county’s nine public school districts and most of its private schools canceled classes as a cold weather system dropped anywhere from three to 20 inches between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Two small private schools, Vancouver Christian School and Meadow Glade Adventist Elementary, each started classes two hours later than usual. The Washington School for the Deaf and Washington School for the Blind held classes, but did not provide student transportation.

Vancouver received less snow (about three inches) than other cities across the county, according to the National Weather Service. However, the snow coupled with icy road conditions led administrators from the county’s two largest districts — Evergreen and Vancouver — to cancel classes.

Evergreen Public Schools previously scheduled a half-day for Wednesday to allow teachers extra planning time. District officials would have considered pushing the start time back under normal circumstances, spokeswoman Carol Fenstermacher said, but did not because students would have been at school just two hours before leaving Wednesday.

Evergreen has five “snow days” identified on its 2011-2012 calendar. Wednesday’s cancellation will be made up June 15, officials said.

Meanwhile, Vancouver schools officials drove area roads at 3 a.m. before deciding to cancel classes. The condition of sidewalks students use to walk to school also factored into their decision, district spokeswoman Kris Sork said.

“We were looking at not only if the buses could get through, but if it was safe for kids to traverse,” she said.

Officials chose not to delay the school day’s start because they doubted the snow and ice would thaw in time to make conditions safer, Sork said, noting Vancouver has three designated snow days. Students will attend class Friday, Feb. 3, to make up Wednesday’s missed class time.

La Center received 20 inches of snow the past two days, according to the National Weather Service. The snow melted fast, Superintendent Mark Mansell said Wednesday afternoon, noting he expected schools would open Thursday for the first time this week.

Whether schools would open on time or later to allow for better driving conditions would likely be decided early Thursday morning, Mansell said. A La Center Middle School basketball game and ceremony honoring fallen team member Cody Sherrell would go on as expected at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, he predicted.

Kalama, La Center, Ridgefield and Woodland belong to the KWRL bus co-op. Each district makes an independent decision whether to hold or cancel classes. Ridgefield, the southernmost member, was the only one to hold classes Tuesday.

Battle Ground Public Schools shut down all its schools Wednesday, one day after inclement weather forced the closure of five. The district previously received a waiver from the state to split the district for weather-related purposes.

For instance, the district cancelled classes for five schools in its north and east quadrants, including Battle Ground High School, on Tuesday. The following day snowfall in the lower-lying areas of the district forced the closure of all schools, including those in the district’s south and west portions.

With public school buses not a consideration, area private schools made their decisions in varying ways.

As a rule, Cedar Tree Classical Christian School in Ridgefield follows the Ridgefield School District’s lead. So, when Edgerly declared Ridgefield’s school day canceled around 4:30 a.m., Cedar Tree elected to call off classes, Headmaster Tom Bradshaw said.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Christian waited until 5:30 a.m. to decide to start classes late. Private schools do not have to stick to the same time frame public schools do because students generally arrive via carpool not buses, Vancouver Christian Principal Roger Miller said.

Miller noted that when he went to bed Tuesday night, the roads were covered and he believed school would be closed. Conditions were slushy but passable when he awoke, leading him to believe a later start would work.

“It’s always a tough call but the primary focus is ‘Is it safe for the kids to get there?’” Miller said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.