By DALE PALMER
White Salmon Valley Schools
The first snowstorm of the year has already hit. While some might say it is early for this type of weather, we must remember that it is winter; and we live in and love the Columbia River Gorge!
Our goal is to always operate school. But student, staff, and community safety always is first and foremost in our decision-making process. This process actually starts long before winter's first snow. There are many steps in the process.
Susan Tibke, state authorized school bus driver trainer, instructs drivers on driving in adverse weather conditions. All school bus drivers are subject to intense classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction before they become authorized to drive a school bus. They are our neighbors, friends and professional drivers.
Jim Meyer, head mechanic, and Carl Rude, assistant, keep buses and equipment in tip-top condition. Due to the weight and engine locations (rear engine), school buses perform well in snow conditions. All buses carry tire chains, and drivers are instructed annually on chain installation. During our "chain clinic," drivers install chains and are given instruction driving a chained vehicle.
We subscribe to a weather forecasting service (Extended Range Forecasting/ERF) for on-demand and up-to-the-minute local weather predictions. They have the equipment, expertise and are available 24 hours a day to assist us with accurate and timely forecasts.
As you can imagine, weather conditions vary greatly in our district. We have Bingen at river level and Snowden, Mt. Brook and Gilmer in the higher elevations. We must take all locations into account before deciding to cancel or delay school.
Determining driving conditions is not a back porch or bedroom window call. The only way to actually determine road conditions is to drive on them. Sharon Schalk, Transportation Director, drives portions of every bus route every morning when potential inclement weather is upon us. Klickitat, Skamania and state road crews are contacted as to their progress, crew availability and current equipment condition.
Before deciding to close schools, I consult first with staff. Can we safely operate buses? Are road conditions adequate to provide reasonable protection for our students from the actions of other drivers? Do current weather conditions allow for safe walking and waiting conditions? Will predicted conditions later in the school day allow students a safe return home? Careful consideration is given to each element of the decision making process.
If conditions are favorable, we will operate school on every scheduled day. In extreme conditions it may be necessary to delay the start of school or cancel it completely if students cannot be transported safely to and from school.
Once we do make the decision to delay two hours or close schools, we try in numerous ways to ensure the word reaches parents, students, and staff. We notify all local radio stations beginning very early in the morning in most instances and, through another service provider, all Portland TV stations, of our decision. Also, through this service provider, you, through your home computer and/or cell phone, will have immediate access to our decision. If you log on to www.flashalert.net and work through the steps (click on Portland, Oregon on the map, click on Columbia Gorge Schools (12), and click on White Salmon) you will have access to our decision regarding school closures and/or delays.
As the weather conditions constantly change in our area, please listen to your local radio stations for school delay and/or closure information.