Dordt reevaluates snow policy

Elizabeth Helmkamp—Staff Writer

The storm that happened on January 22 caused the administration to realize that because the school had never actually had a snow day before, the protocol for what to do if the school actually decided to close was not well-rehearsed.  The policy currently states that the president must be the one to cancel school. Wilson says that the administration is going through “scenario planning” to improve the plans for what to do in a winter storm.

“We’re going to look at our policy, how often we communicate and how we communicate to students, faculty and staff,” Wilson said. “Second, what would we do if we closed? For example, what services would we close, would we close the library? The Rec Center and things like that? If it’s not safe for people to go to class, is it safe for people to go to the library or to the Rec Center?”

Another thing they are discussing is which parking lots to focus on clearing first in a snowstorm if school is going to stay open.

Dordt College has not had a full snow day during a semester since it was founded in 1955.

According to Howard Wilson, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Dordt College, exams were delayed for a day once because of a storm coming in. In another instance, students were given an extra day to travel back for Thanksgiving break and one other time during a spring break due to severe weather, but there has never been an official snow day.

During Wilson’s time here at Dordt, a late start was called about two years ago, classes started at 10 in the morning because the sheriff had requested there not be any travel at that time, because the county and city plows were out. During the last storm, administration called an early end to the day, so people could go home in the daylight.

“As far as I can tell, we’ve actually never closed completely for a snowstorm,” Wilson said.

The process for deciding whether the school will close, or more likely, have a delayed start or early end, starts the day before. Provost Eric Forseth, Wilson and Nate van Niejenhuis (Director of Facilities & Services), talk 24 hours in advance. If they think the weather will be bad, Wilson sends out an email saying there might not be school and telling students to check their emails in the morning. At this point, they don’t know for sure whether the school will be closing yet, they just want people to be aware.

“Couldn’t you just cancel class like the night before and tell us when we’re not having class?” is a common question Wilson gets.

“Well, so far we haven’t [canceled class] really,” Wilson said. “I haven’t seen a scenario where we could actually make that call accurately 12 to 15 hours in advance. The weather at 6 a.m. on that Monday [January 22] that we had the storm, the roads were very passable, it only closed in at about 9:00. It’s northwest Iowa, conditions can be highly variable, even 10 miles apart, places can have very different weather.”

The weather is checked again during the night, and at 6 a.m., they talk again. Jim Bos, the registrar, and the president, if he is available, also take part in this meeting. The snow team is already out working at this point usually, and they talk about if they can keep doors and sidewalks open. They then decide whether or not to close, or what other course of action to take.


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