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Safety is priority No. 1 when deciding to cancel school

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Special columnist - David Raleigh

Have you ever wondered how school officials go about determining whether or not Owen County schools are in session on bad weather days?  
With the chill of the January air upon us and the threat of wintry weather ahead, I thought you might be interested in learning how we go about making that very tough decision.
Getting our students to and from school safely each day is the number one priority of Owen County Schools Transportation Director Jimmy Sutherland and the many bus drivers responsible for transporting your children.  
By the time our drivers deliver your children to and from school, our buses travel a total of about 3,000 miles per day.
Jimmy constantly monitors the weather conditions throughout the winter months. If the weather forecast calls for inclement weather that could potentially cause problems on the roads with our buses, we must be on alert.  
On those days where weather could present problems for our drivers, Jimmy communicates with Charlotte Elkins, director of pupil personnel, and me so we’re all on the same page.  
Each of us is responsible for traveling parts of the district to determine if the roads are safe enough for travel on those bad weather days.  
We’re usually out on the roads by 4 a.m. to monitor state and county roads. We then meet back at the board office around 5 a.m. and compare notes on road conditions.  At 354 square miles, Owen County is a very large area, so it is possible for a portion of the county to have experienced poor weather conditions while the remainder avoids the wintry wrath of Mother Nature.
If any part of our district is determined to be unsafe for buses and drivers, the decision would be made to cancel school for that day.  Jimmy credits the road crews from both the state department and the county for treating roads and removing snow on those mornings to help reduce the risk for our drivers.
Sometimes making the call to cancel school is an easy one, but for various reasons most times it is a very difficult one.  There are mornings when the wintry weather has not yet arrived by 5 a.m., so we are left to make a decision based on information we can gather from neighboring districts.
Jimmy, Charlotte and I make calls to other transportation directors, DPPs and superintendents to discuss our options.  It makes it much easier if all the districts within the same region are on the same page and make a consistent decision.  “We always err on the side of safety,” Jimmy said. “If we always err on the side of safety of the children, we can’t go wrong.  We can make up a day in the summer when we know for sure the roads are safe to travel.”