School Cancellation Protocols & Safety
Every year we experience the need to cancel school due to a variety of reasons which is why I’d like to share more information regarding protocols that guide our decisions and precautions we’re taking to ensure our students and staff understand what to do in the event an emergency situation arises during the school day. The decision to delay, cancel, or have an early dismissal due to any reason is one that we take seriously and with great caution, care, and concern—caution that we’re making an informed decision based on credible information from key sources, care that our decision supports the safety and well-being of students and staff, and concern that we’re taking into account all of the variables that cancelling school will inevitably impact.
Please reference this 1-page PDF for a quick summary of Urbandale CSD_Procedures and Notifications and review the information below for context regarding each scenario.
Inclement Weather Situations
When meteorologists predict inclement weather, I’m constantly monitoring forecasts throughout the evening, overnight, and during the early morning hours. When the issue is temperature-related, a standard we generally follow is to cancel school when the temperature at 5:45 AM is minus 25 or the windchill is minus 30 according to weather.gov. When the issue is snow-related, I personally drive across the school district to assess road conditions and am in contact with our Buildings and Maintenance Supervisor, the City of Urbandale to understand their schedules for clearing roads in order to predict how much progress will be made by the time staff and students will begin arriving at school, local area superintendents, and bus transportation services. If these variables aren’t issues prior to the beginning of the school day, but arise during the school day, we then go through similar protocols when determining early-out situations.
Every weather-related situation is unique which is why in some cases we are able to communicate delays or cancellations the night before, while other situations require the decision to be made in the morning as weather conditions change (improve or deteriorate) throughout the overnight hours. In most cases, we will make the decision in the morning based on real-time weather conditions as we prefer to communicate a single decision with families and staff and not communicate a decision the night before and then need to change the decision the following morning. My goal is to inform families of school cancellation by 6:00 AM for morning situations and by 11:00 AM for afternoon situations.
When school is delayed or cancelled, we will notify families directly via email and phone, post an alert on the district website, post on district Twitter, and communicate with media outlets. As we all know, any time we attempt to make plans that are dependent on the weather the risk for the weather changing or shifting always exists; thus, I want to ensure you that we’ll do our best to make decisions that keep students and staff safe while being aware of the impact school closures have on our daily lives. It’s always good practice for you to check your email, phone, listen to local radio/TV stations, and check the district website often so you are sure to receive the information as soon as possible.
Bus Routes: When we have a 2-hour weather delay, bus routes will coincide with the 2-hour delay in that buses will pick up students 2 hours later than their normal pick-up time. When we have a 2-hour early dismissal, bus routes will coincide with the 2-hour early dismissal in that buses will pick up students from school 2 hours earlier than their regular dismissal time and will drop off students 2 hours earlier than their normal drop-off time.
Late-Start Wednesdays: If we were to have a 2-hour weather delay on a previously scheduled “Late Start Wednesday” for grades K-8, the K-8 late start would be cancelled. The start time for all schools would be two hours after their regular start time and bus routes would coincide with the 2-hour late start for all schools.
Adventuretime: If the Urbandale Community School District cancels, delays, or dismisses early, the Adventuretime Program is also required to cancel, delay, or dismiss early. For example, if school is on a 2-hour delay and will start at 10:55 AM, instead of 8:55 AM, Adventuretime will open at 8:30 AM instead of 6:30 AM. If school is dismissed early, we will communicate the time that Adventuretime will close given the weather conditions on that particular day.
When a situation arises in which some type of threat is brought to our attention, be it a direct or indirect threat, we collaborate with Principals, our School Resource Officer, and law enforcement to assess the threat level and determine the best course of action to keep students and staff safe. When needed, we’ll also consult with city and county officials, neighboring districts, and other entities that could potentially be impacted by the threat.
The decision to cancel/close school due to a threat is certainly challenging and one that I wish never had to be made. I’m aware of the fear and heightened stress this decision may have on students, staff, and families which is why awareness, preparedness, vigilance, and communication are critical components for effectively responding to a threat situation. The Threat Assessment Team goes through a protocol to distinguish the level of threat; we are ultimately looking for some level of credibility to the threat. Different threats require different action. While we take all threats seriously, one of the keys is to investigate whether or not the situation poses a threat, not just that a threat was made. The actions taken during any type of emergency situation depend a great deal on the specifics of the incident. It’s only after careful consideration of the feedback and recommendations we receive from law enforcement that an informed decision is made by school administrators. For “high-level” threats, law enforcement will take over the situation and inform us directly on what actions we should take.
There are few certainties or “standard operating procedures” when it comes to responding to threats—every single one is unique with the only commonality being their unknown nature. However, one thing is certain: every decision is based on doing what’s best to support the safety and well-being of students and staff. We will keep families informed via phone, email, district Twitter, and the district website as much as possible when threat situations arise.
Isolated Incident Situations
Examples of isolated incidents include a water main break, gas line leak, power outage, or bus transportation delays. When these types of situations arise, I am in contact with Principals, our Buildings and Maintenance Supervisor, city officials, utility companies, bus transportation services, and any other necessary resources. When isolated incidents occur, we’ll notify families directly via email and phone, post an alert on the district website, and post on district Twitter. As these situations often arise unexpectedly, we follow best practices for ensuring the safety and well-being of students, staff, and families.
An important component of maintaining a safe and secure learning environment is proactively practicing safety drills to ensure our students and staff understand what to do in the event an emergency situation arises during the school day. In addition to practicing fire drills and storm/tornado drills, our schools also practice lockdown drills.
A lockdown may be used in response to a potential or confirmed threat situation occurring inside or outside of our building. Although I cannot share specifics of our lockdown procedures for security reasons, I can share that during a lockdown only law enforcement is allowed to enter the school and procedures are taken to ensure the safety and security of students and staff inside our building.
Every school in our district conducts two lockdown drills per semester for a total of four lockdown drills every school year. These drills are in addition to the four fire drills and four storm/tornado drills we practice every school year in support of state regulations and sound safety protocols. By practicing safety drills, we can ensure our students and staff understand what to do in the event of an emergency situation. In addition, these drills allow us to continually assess and evaluate our Emergency Operations Plan in order to continually improve our response protocols.
Continual improvement is a fundamental component of our district and integral in all of our procedures and protocols. We are always refining the way in which we respond to various situations in order to better serve and support students, staff, and families. Please be assured that school and district staff are as deeply concerned about the safety of our students as you are about your children.
The safety and emergency related issues confronting our schools and community are serious. We know that parents, students, and staff will work together to help maintain a focus on teaching and learning. Thank you in advance for your cooperation as we continue to work together to ensure the safest environment for our students, staff, and community.
Steve L. Bass