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Posted on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

First Ann Arbor schools snow day in 2 years: How districts make the call

By Danielle Arndt


A resident shovels snow in Ann Arbor on Friday, Jan. 25. A snow, sleet and freezing rain mixture Jan. 27 through the night led to the first snow day in 2 years for Washtenaw County students.

Daniel Brenner I file photo

A messy mix of overnight snow, sleet and freezing rain gave Ann Arbor-area students their first snow day in two years.

The winter of 2011-12 was the fifth warmest on record in the Ann Arbor area, resulting in no extra days off for students. Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel said it was the first year in his 10 years as a superintendent that there were no snow days.

More than 400 school closings were reported in southeast Michigan Monday as result of the conglomeration of precipitation that fell Sunday night and early Monday. All of Washtenaw County's school districts closed, as well as most of the private and charter schools.

Road conditions had improved by the time commuters got in their cars for the morning drive. But school districts have to make decisions on whether to close by 5 a.m., officials said.

Ann Arbor Public Schools leaders prefer to make the call by 4:30 a.m. to allow for parents and staff to be notified by 5 a.m., said district spokeswoman Liz Margolis.

Bus drivers report for work around that time and some bus runs start as early as 5:30 a.m., Menzel said.

The process of making the decision to close schools starts much earlier. The districts all vary slightly on their protocols, but most start the process between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., officials said.

The WISD transportation supervisors take the lead. The WISD provides transportation for Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools.

"They're out driving the rural routes and select city routes, too, on nights like last night," Margolis said. "There are predetermined roads that they know there can be issues with. … At the district level, we have our facilities people out at the schools starting at about (2 a.m.), too, clearing snow and assessing what the ice situation is."

She said the roads on the west side of the Ann Arbor school district usually are the worst for AAPS.

The remaining districts send their own transportation officials out on the roads.

Margolis said because the district has so many more students walking these days, because of cuts to the transportation budget, the amount of ice on the sidewalks is very important to consider.

The decision to close is collaborative, school officials said. The county superintendents and transportation officials talk to one another frequently in the early hours before making a decision. There have been a number of occasions when some of the districts close and others don't, however, Margolis said.

Even though weather forecasters indicated temperatures were expected to rise to 40 degrees by mid-morning Monday, there is a general practice among county school districts not to close for a partial day, either through a late start or a "two-hour delay," Menzel said.

He said this practice was driven by feedback from parents who said a two-hour delay disrupts their work schedule.

"The preference was to either have students go or not go so (parents) could make definitive decisions," Menzel said, adding that often two-hour delays can turn into full-day closures when weather conditions don't improve as expected.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:25 p.m.

I do remember by 11 pm Brighton, Howell, Pinckney and the Kensington area were closed.

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:21 p.m.

How are you and your children spending this wet, dreary, messy "snow day?"

Tammy Mayrend

Mon, Feb 11, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

At work. My kids reported to one of the few schools that were open.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:26 p.m.

Everyone is doing their own thing and I am heading to the television to count the accidents. Otherwise enjoying a nice quiet day off.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:16 p.m.

At 9 am the total count was 642. As for school closing? Roads. Except they usually forget about the dirt roads which are a hazard to any bus nor car. Glad for the day off. Besides, the elementary was the only thing open any ways.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 8:46 p.m.

Most people don't realize this, but school staff who don't work directly with students don't get snow days. A lot of school employees had to report today.

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:20 p.m.

A2NativeGirl, you are correct. Thanks for pointing this out for other readers!


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:17 p.m.

That must be you. Because most school officials I know do get snow day pay. Might want to check into it.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

Isn't there a "professional development" day tomorrow for teachers - so no school tomorrow either. "5 day weekend" anyone?


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

4 days. Unless you had Friday off and were a high school student. Then you get 5.

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

Karen, you are correct. There is a professional development day tomorrow for teachers. So it will be a four-day weekend for students, but not staff.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 8:19 p.m.

I'd like to know why Ann Arbor doesn't ever do a "delayed start" of 1-3 hours later than typical for each level. Many surrounding school districts do this, and many parents have more flexibility to adjust their work hours than can skip work altogether when their students have a snow day. Can find out a little more about why AAPS refuses to use this technique that could easily lead to safer transportation and less re-scheduling? AAPS already gets out a week or more later than many other Michigan schools due to that Late Winter break at the end of February. I hate it when we have to schedule extra days tacked on to the end of the school year.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 2:16 a.m.

It would be a logistical nightmare for all. And why would you think there would be extra days tacked on? The district put 5 snow days into the schedule without it effecting the end of the school year. We'd have to have a major snow event to use those up. Since this was the first in two years I think we're ok.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

From a teacher's a nightmare! Our schedules are crazy busy and having the day delayed can make for a lot of havoc. Not to mention the absent kids...parents don't send to school for various reasons - making teaching the lessons harder still.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:21 p.m.

Good point. But then that would also disrupt the bus schedule. I remember them doing that around January 2006 when snow fell so hard? They started closing schools at noon. Became a lot of fun getting children home. Glad this is not in practice.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 8:28 p.m.

The article states "He said this practice was driven by feedback from parents who said a two-hour delay disrupts their work schedule. The preference was to either have students go or not go so (parents) could make definitive decisions," Menzel said, adding that often two-hour delays can turn into full-day closures when weather conditions don't improve as expected." The school year is not lengthened by a snow day. There are 5 snow days already built into the schedule.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

A delayed start would have been most optimal, however, that can be a logistic nightmare as well.

Jared Mauch

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 7:14 p.m.

It was quite slick out here, even by 8am. I certainly agree with closing school for the day. The thing I disagree with is the 5am wake-up call.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

It is like your alarm clock. Turn it off and roll back to sleep. I did.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 8:39 p.m.

I got my call at 615 am. Having a kid in kindergarten, I'm a newbie. Now I know to turn my phone off.


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 7:50 p.m.

That's why I turned off my phone and checked the news first thing., I hate the 5 am robocalls.