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School district caught off guard by sudden winter storm


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T-R PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM — Large piles of snow were pushed to the side of the Marshalltown Public Library parking lot after heavy snowfall Friday morning. The National Weather Service advised the area to prepare for accumulations up to two inches. However, five inches of snow was reported in Marshalltown and 8.5 inches in State Center.

On Friday morning, some Marshalltown Community School District parents voiced their displeasure on social media regarding the lack of a two-hour delay or cancellation due to the weather.

According to an email sent out by Superintendent Theron Schutte, decisions about whether or not delay or cancel must be made by 5:30 a.m. That way, parents have time to make childcare arrangements.

“Today’s storm began after this timeframe, and the weather was more challenging to navigate than forecasted,” Schutte said.

Director of Transportation Rex Kozak said the district schedules for the first buses to leave for student pick-up at 6:30 a.m.

“Looking at the forecast, we were not expecting this to come in and dump as much as it did,” he said. “No one was prepared. We were checking roads this morning and it was light rain and flurries at the time. It was 6:15 a.m. when we really started seeing it. We got caught.”

Marshall County Emergency Management Coordinator Kim Elder said an advisory from the National Weather Service was sent out at 10 p.m. Thursday evening. However, it did not indicate the amount of snow that fell.

“It said we could get accumulations up to 2 inches,” she said. “That is way off of what we got.”

Elder added there were a number of vehicles which ended up in the ditches Friday morning.

Fortunately, Kozak said there were no accidents or injuries involving any of the MCSD buses.

Some of the buses in town did get stuck on slight inclines, and other buses were brought in to finish the students’ journey to their school buildings.

“We did the best we could with a rough situation,” he said. “Our drivers did an outstanding job.”

The reason for the buses getting stuck was slick roads. Kozak said the city did not foresee the weather, and it took a little while for the plows to get out on the Marshalltown streets.

“But we need to give credit where credit is due,” he said. “The city did get out as soon as they could.”

Kozak said other area school districts which made decisions have different situations. The East Marshall, West Marshall, BCLUW, Gladbrook-Reinbeck and GMG school districts canceled classes Friday. Marshalltown Community College declared a two-hour delay. He asked what deadline the other schools have when it comes to weather-related announcements, and added that perhaps their buses depart after Marshalltown’s.

“Other districts are more rural,” he said. “Ninety-seven percent of our students live in town, and normally we get around town easily. Five inches were dumped on us in an hour and a half. I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Elder did agree with Kozak’s dumping description. She received 8.5 inches of snow in State Center.

“This was one of the fastest heavy snows I’ve seen,” Elder said. “The heavy snows do not generally come that fast. The amount was more than expected. I was surprised by how much we got.”

Schutte recognizes the frustrations parents and staff felt as they navigated through the sudden weather. In the email, he wrote the district will use the weather experience as a learning opportunity. They will review, and potentially revise, weather procedures.

“The safety and security of staff and students is our top priority when it comes to making weather cancellations and delay decisions,” he wrote.

Kozak feels the district has the correct protocol with severe weather. They were just caught off guard. Neither district personnel, nor the forecast saw what was coming. The process of delaying or canceling school is a delicate process, he said.

“People need to understand, if we called off or delayed every time something could happen . . . people get upset when a decision is made and [the weather] clears up quickly,” Kozak said. “This was a fluke.”

Even so, he said he will review everything, such as radar reports and projections, from Thursday night through Friday morning, and try to identify what was missed. As Kozak goes through his review, he knows the MCSD drivers did the best they could.

“We take everything we do seriously. Everyone is safe, and that is the key,” he said.

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