Submitted by Rene Carroll
Winter is closing in fast and the Washougal School District is preparing for dropping temperatures and the potential impacts of inclement weather on area schools and commutes.
Many buses in Washougal travel to high elevations, where roads can be harder hit by winter weather than surrounding communities. Even the lower regions of the district can be unsafe for travel when cold air is blowing from the Columbia River Gorge. The WSD leadership must make decisions regarding whether it’s safe for students to be transported to and from school when these weather conditions are present.
On days when predictions call for snow and ice, WSD Transportation Supervisor Jesse Miller will begin driving district roads as early as 3:00 a.m., testing conditions to determine the safety for staff and students. Miller will consult with WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton to discuss their options which are to open schools on regular bus routes, keep schools open and run snow routes, a two-hour or three-hour late start, or school closure.
This decision must be made by 5:00 a.m. so staff can be informed before heading in to work. All district families are notified with an early morning automated text and phone call that begins at 6:00 a.m. “It can take up to 20 minutes for all 5,000 phone calls to be made,” explained Templeton. “We know families need this information as soon as possible to make childcare and other plans.” Families are encouraged to check the district Facebook page, website, Twitter, and watch for updates on local media.
Families often ask why the district doesn’t close only the schools at higher elevations while keeping the lower elevation schools open? One reason is that Washougal High School covers the entire district and students travel from many areas. Bus drivers and staff live across Washougal and beyond as well. “If some roads are unsafe for buses and cars to travel, then it’s unsafe for staff to get to work too,” explained Templeton. “If road conditions are unsafe, the best choice is to close all schools.”
“We always make our decisions with safety in mind,” Miller stressed. “There are times when we would have made a different decision with the benefit of hindsight, but safety has to be our top concern.”
More information on weather-related emergency information, including updated snow routes, can be found on the Washougal School District website.