Snow days discussed by school district

The March 8 Three Rivers School District Board of Directors’ meeting was expedited because a district event was scheduled for immediately afterward.
TRSD Board Chair Jennifer Johnstun explained, “We have a kind of abbreviated agenda tonight compared to a normal meeting and we’re going to be trying to move through it pretty quickly tonight because there is another event happening tonight. It is the Academic Masters event, which will be happening at Hidden Valley High School so we’ll be trying to wrap up here no later than 6:15 so that all of us that will be attending that really important event to our district will be able to get there.”
Luckily, Hidden Valley High School is just a five-minute drive from the board’s office on New Hope Rd, where the meeting was held.
Johnstun went on to say that several recurring portions of the meeting, including their Say Something Positive segment, were scrapped in the interest of hastening the proceedings.
There was a slight delay at the start of the meeting due to technical difficulties had by members attending virtually. Only Board Members Johnstun and Rich Halsted were physically at the board office, while Board Members Jenn Searle and Jamie Wright attended via Zoom. The meeting could not have legally proceeded without the active participation of at least three members, as a quorum cannot be established without a majority of the board.
After the technical difficulties were resolved, the board moved straight into TRSD Superintendent Dave Valenzuela’s report. He noted that this report would be “in the spirit of this evening, abbreviated.”
The cornerstone of Valenzuela’s remarks was “the rationale that goes into us calling a snow day,” which was a timely subject given the day of the meeting was, in fact, a snow day.

“Obviously, the number one concern that we have when we’re looking at weather and calling a snow day is safety,” said Valenzuela.

He elaborated that one of the major challenges in the snow day decision-making process is the “geographically” complex layout of the district.

“We have a lot of different places that students and staff and buses travel to and from,” the superintendent explained. “Our schools are situated in lower elevation places usually not wildly affected by weather. However, if we put into context the idea that North Valley High School sits off of Monument Drive, students that attend North Valley High School could come from downtown Merlin, they could come from East Jones Creek and live way up on East Jones Creek above the UPS station, they could come from as far away as Glendale… that’s three passes they would have to travel over on I-5.”

Valenzuela added the district also has to factor in students that live off of “tertiary roads in terms of maintenance and repair that accumulate a lot of snow.

“When you have snow accumulation then minimal melting and then snow accumulation on top of that, that’s when we find our most dangerous conditions and that’s essentially what we found this morning.”

The superintendent said he and some members of his team will already be getting information by 3:30 a.m. on mornings snow days are being contemplated, by sources such as First Student drivers who travel the school bus routes to check for safety, outdoor cameras at most district schools and tripcheck.com to check the status of snow accumulation on Hayes Hill and the mountain passes on Interstate 5.

“We collect as much information as possible and then we make a decision,” said Valenzuela. “Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward – we’ve got a lot of snow, roadways are hazardous, so we cancel. Sometimes the forecast is suspect so we put a delay in place to give our staff and everybody a couple of hours and hopefully things warm up and improve.”

When it’s not straightforward, Valenzuela added, he will often take the opportunity of a two-hour delay to drive secondary roads, such as Caves Hwy in the Illinois Valley, where he added the elevation makes conditions “drastically different” than those at Illinois Valley High School itself.

Valenzuela went on, “I’ll tell you, it’s a difficult decision to make, and I can say without fail I have some kind of strange power: If I call a snow day, the sun comes out; if I fail to call a snow day, it will snow harder.”

He went on to recount how much more sophisticated the methods TRSD employs to gauge whether a snow day should be called are today compared to when his tenure as superintendent began.

“Most of it was just primarily me and some other drivers out running around and, you know, sticking out fingers in the snow and seeing how much snow’s there,” remarked Valenzuela. “Now we have much more data and we can make much more informed decisions and those decisions are always based in student and staff safety.”

Following the superintendent report, the board discussed the possibility of adding a school day in June to make up for snow days. Deputy Superintendent Casey Alderson said that the schedule works out well for an additional day because the last day of school is currently set to be a Wednesday, so adding that Thursday as an additional day of instruction was deemed “the least disruptive” option to make up for lost educational hours.

Two individuals spoke during public comments – Judy Ahrens and Rick Nelson. Both questioned the district’s multi-million dollar project to renovate school restrooms and convert stalls into single-user fully enclosed rooms.

Board Member Rich Halsted made the case that the driving force behind the project goes beyond the gender identity matter cited by Ahrens and Nelson, and in fact addresses a “nefarious” trend of some students trashing restrooms or engaging in misconduct because of the privacy the restroom affords. He cited the fact that a restroom at North Valley High is in such poor shape that it had to be sealed off, forcing students to go to the opposite side of the school for restroom use.

Valenzuela has explained at previous meetings that the district is also trying to get a handle on vaping, bullying and emotional distress that is known to occur in restrooms, and the project is a significant step in that regard.

“This is a much bigger issue than sexuality,” Halsted concluded.

The next regular session of the TRSD Board of Directors is scheduled for April 19 at 4 p.m. at North Valley High School.