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It takes a lot to call a snow day for Billings schools, superintendent says

Snow days replaced with remote learning days in country's largest school district
Posted at 7:48 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 21:48:26-05

People in Billings know even these frigid temperatures are not a sure sign to shut down schools across Montana.

Although temperatures and wind chill make for dangerous conditions, a lot plays into Billings School District 2’s daily decisions to keep buses running and school doors open.

Superintendent Greg Upham says his biggest concerns are between 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., and again between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. as students make their way to and from school.

For that, Upham says he relies on a solid group of experts, including meteorologists with the Yellowstone Weather Station, a transportation advisor and a bus official.

“It does come down to safety and so we monitor that closely,” he said, adding, “We have constant conversations going all the time in monitoring the safety.”

The buses need to run safely, and once it reaches 30 degrees below ambient temperature, it puts a strain on the vehicles. But buses aren’t the only factor that goes into these tough decisions.

“Well, it's just not as easy as canceling school because for some of our students it's the only food they get... and there's safety and security there. We also have a workforce that depends on us to do our job and so that they can do their job. So it's all intermingled but, you know, it does come down to safety,” Upham said.

As soon as temperatures go below zero, the district does have cold weather procedures for students.

Students can go straight into the building as soon as they arrive in the mornings, and the little ones are not allowed out for recess or lunch. For high school students, it’s up to them to use good judgment.

To make sure students are as safe as possible, Upham asks all parents to make sure their contact information is updated for Robocalls and Emails.

He also wants to make sure parents understand they have a right to keep their children home if they feel it’s unsafe having them walk or waiting for a bus.

“They surely have the right to keep their child at home, and we'll work with them on attendance and any type of assignments or anything like that because this is Montana. It's cold,” he said.