Record snowfall affects school
By Savannah Butcher, Reporter, & Isabelle Spence, Co-Content Editor
On Monday, Feb. 4, the first flakes of what would soon become a record-setting snowstorm began to fall. After the air cleared days later, Vashonites were left with icy roads and limited mobility, during which a state of emergency was declared statewide. The snow affected all aspects of Vashon life and had a particularly large impact on the school district.
According to Robert Larsen, the Assistant Chief of Operations at Vashon Island Fire and Rescue (VIFR), the biggest challenge during the storm was transportation.
“We had trouble getting to places; we had trouble getting out of places. It took a lot longer to do anything,” Larsen said.
No matter the conditions, emergency vehicles still need to reach their targets. The VIFR has one plow to clear the roads for their emergency vehicles, which proved to be insufficient.
“We had occasions [in which we couldn’t] get our aid cars as close to a house as we wanted, and wound up having to transport a patient out on a sled,” Larsen said.
The snowstorm was unprecedented throughout Larsen’s 32-year career. Emergencies across the island were at a high; during the storm, the department’s call volume was up 260 percent.
“We were prepared to the best of our ability. I upstaffed, I had extra people on so that we could handle multiple calls. From Friday the eighth through Tuesday the 12th we responded to 52 calls,” Larsen said.
Many buildings were closed during the storm, including Vashon schools. Students missed a near accumulation of a week-and-a-half of school. The decision to cancel school fell to superintendent Slade McSheehy and his team, and came after a consideration of all conditions, including road safety, light levels, and the decisions of other districts.
“We wouldn’t want to be dramatically out of sync with Seattle, where so many of our students come from,” principal Danny Rock said.
The administration was also mindful of the impact the missed school days would have on students.
“The least impactful is a late start because we retain that day as a school day; we don’t have to make it up, and all of our services are provided: free and reduced lunch, special ed services, and all of our classes,” Rock said. “It’s a work day and it’s a school day, even though it’s just a half day.”
Despite these preferences, VISD students still missed five complete days of school, and attended 3 partial days. The state requires the school to make up the missed days.
Currently, the school is pursuing the possibility of waiving some of the missed days. This process involves appealing to Governor Jay Inslee.
“I’m fairly certain that our waiver would be accepted because the governor declared a state of emergency,” Superintendent Slade McSheehy said.
If effective, this process would allow the school to waive up to three days. However, this does not solve all problems surrounding state requirements for the school district. The school is required by the state to provide 1,027 hours of instruction for every student.
“We’re looking at ‘how many hours of instruction do we actually provide?’” Rock said. “I’m pretty sure we exceed, by a comfortable margin, the minimum. And if that’s the case, then it’s possible that we could apply for the waiver days and, if granted, not have to make up those days.”
Both the administration and teacher unions have indicated that they would like to waive the days. Unfortunately, while students are taken care of with this plan, other members of the community are not.
“We can make it so the students’ last day would be on [June] 21, so the question becomes, “How do teachers make up those three days, and how do classified staff make up those three days?” McSheehy said.
Teachers and classified staff — custodians, groundskeepers, kitchen workers — are under contract for 185 days. Waiving the three days would prevent employees from receiving their full paycheck.
“For some classified folks, missing three days would not be an issue, but for many, if not most, I would say that if you were to ask them to take a three-day pay cut, that’s not good.” McSheehy said.
The school has one firm deadline at the end of the year to work with: graduation. As of now, the administration is adamant that they will not move the date. If the days are not waived and school continues till June 26th, seniors may have to come back after graduation. The administration is also looking at solutions to this possible problem.
The unexpected snow days had a more serious effect on some members of the school than others. The school’s Pirate Pantry food bank and the free and reduced lunch program serve as important resources for students without other meal options. The snow days prevented students in need from accessing these resources.
“I personally didn’t hear from any families a demonstrated need, but that doesn’t mean that doesn’t exist,” McSheehy said. “I think that’s a decision we could take a look at.”
Other school districts left their kitchens open during the storm.
“For a lot [of] students, snow days are fun because it means freedom and no responsibility,” Rock said. “For another group of our students, it means no stability, no interactions with friendly adults, no food. It means something pretty different.”