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School closures: Not everyone gets to sleep in

Kyle Murray’s day started a bit late on Tuesday, and that was fine by him. The 17-year-old junior from Kingston High School began his morning with a little extra quality time with his pillow, planning on the weather-induced two-hour school delay announced the day before. He wasn’t heartbroken when his mom text-messaged him on her way out the door to tell him school was cancelled.

By the time school would have been dismissed, he was out at the skate park in Kingston. He considered his day fully seized.

“I sat around, I did a little homework, and I came out to hang out with my friends. It’s fun to get the day off,” Murray said.

Ron Lee’s day didn’t start off the same. Jarred awake by a screeching alarm clock at 1:30 a.m., the North Kitsap School District transportation director rolled out of bed and was walking out the door a mere 10 minutes later. After a quick stop to fill up his coffee mug “with whatever comes out of the dispenser at the grocery store,” he hit the roads to assess conditions. What he saw would determine whether schools would begin two hours late or be cancelled for the day.

Lee said the recent snowfall and rainstorms put NKSD in uncharted waters.

“Snow is one thing, but this kind of deluge we had is totally different. The flooding issue is something new to us,” said Lee, who has been with the district for 20 years. “It was pretty phenomenal.”

Lee and Supt. Gene Medina both set out on reconnaissance missions, checking all the usual places that flood in typical Pacific Northwest rains.

“Then there were places where I couldn’t believe water was coming out of the ground,” Lee said.

Lee and Medina combined their information and matched it up with the Kitsap County’s list of road closures. On this particular day, the concern was whether the road surfaces and infrastructure were safe for normal traffic capacity and school busses.

“There were places where the ground could have eroded and we didn’t know it,” Lee said.

Other issues also came into play. Because the flooding was prevalent in North Kitsap, officials also considered that some families were more affected by Monday’s record rainfall.

“We didn’t know whether parents came home the night before, or if houses were flooded and how that affected the families,” Lee said.

Because the NKSD covers a wide geographical area, district officials have to consider the safety of all areas, said Chris Case, director of Communications and Community Relations.

“It’s confusing for people to understand how very different the weather and road conditions can be throughout our large geographic area,” she said. “It may be awful in Hansville and roads are impassable and dry and sunny in Suquamish. If the buses can’t go in one area of the district, we (have to) close or delay it all.”

Canceling school is not something district officials take lightly.

“It really is disruptive to learning,” Case said. “All the calendar and lesson plans getting rescheduled is really challenging.”

This year’s school calendar remains unchanged by the school cancellation, as there is one built-in makeup day in the schedule. Even if more cancellations follow, the district can be creative to not extend the school year. Such was the case last year, when the district responded to five snow days by canceling learning improvement days.

Inconvenience, however, can’t play a role in the decision-making process.

“Our No. 1 concern is student safety,” Case said, adding that the district received no complaints about canceling classes on Tuesday.

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