KANSAS CITY, Missouri - Snow days are piling up. The kids are getting cabin fever.
Parents are pulling out their hair.
If you live in the Kansas City area, those scenarios might accurately describe February fatigue inside your household. At this rate, students will still be in class in July.
So are winters that much worse these days? Or is there something else going on? NBC Action News dug in to see if today’s kids are getting out of school easier than the previous generation.
PARENTS JUGGLE TWO FULL-TIME JOBS
On the morning after the blizzard of 2011, Megan Neher tried to distract her kids with video games while she multi-tasked from her basement office.
Zachary, 9, and Natalie, 7, are out of Oak Park-Carpenter Elementary for yet another snow day. Neher, who runs her own public relations business, said juggling conference calls with making lunch can make for some interesting moments.
“Sometimes, I have to shut myself in the bathroom because I’m trying to take a call quickly and don’t have time to say, ‘Shhhhhhh!” said Neher with a laugh.
But Neher said she is lucky because she can actually work from home. Other parents sometimes have to make the tough choice about taking a work sick day when the kids stay home from school.
Neher can’t help but wonder if it was the same when she was a student in the Shawnee Mission District.
“It does feel like snow days are more frequent,” she said. “We’ll have a couple in a row and then I’ll think we’re for sure going back on the third or fourth day. But then they’ll call another day.”
DECISION FROM SUPERINTENDENT’S SEAT
Sure enough, most Kansas City area districts pulled the plug for three straight days last week.
One was Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson, who said sub-zero morning temperatures and the poor condition of neighborhood streets extended the snow-day break an extra day.
|Watch Supt. Hinson explain more about the districts policy by clicking the thumbnail in our video player above|
“I do hear from more people now than I did a number of years ago about whether we have school or not,” said Hinson, who has worked as a superintendent for 15 years (since 2002 in Independence).
Hinson said characteristics have changed over the years. For instance, he said more students are driving to school and more staff members are commuting longer distances.
Technology also makes it easier to track an approaching storm from his office, or immediately hear about safety concerns on roadways, like when a Lee’s Summit school bus slid off the road on Jan. 31.
However, Hinson is skeptical a fear of litigation has softened the snow day criteria for school administrators. Instead, he believes instant communication has an influence.
“I do think when we hype up a big storm about how bad it’s going to be, it impacts peoples’ perceptions about whether they’re going to stay in or whether they’re going to get out and navigate the system.”
>>>NEXT - WHAT DO THE NUMBERS SAY?
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS TELL US ABOUT SNOW DAY TRENDS?
NBC Action News analyzed data kept by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has tracked snow days in each public school going back to 1990.
Comparing the past two decades (1990-99; 2000-09) revealed an increase in the number of snow days at almost every school in Jackson County, Clay County and Cass County.
In Kansas City schools, there were 20 snow days in the ‘90s, but that figure jumped to 55 days the next decade.
In Liberty, snow days increased by 313 percent, from 8 days in the ‘90s to 33 in the ‘00s.
North Kansas City (59%). Grandview (48%) and Pleasant Hill (84%) also showed notable increases.
Kathy Toelkes, a spokeswoman with the Kansas State Department of Education, said the state does not collect information on the number of days that districts take off for inclement weather. Instead, KSDE only keeps track of the days the districts designate for make-up days in the event of inclement weather, which does not accurately reflect the number of snow days that might have been taken.
However, data provided by the Shawnee Mission District dating back to 1983 also showed a rising snow day trend.
>>>NEXT - CAN THE CHANGE BE EXPLAINED BY WEATHER?
IS THERE A METEOROLOGICAL EXPLANATION?
NBC Action News Chief Meteorologist Gary Lezak said snowfall totals in the two decades do not explain why so many districts saw a steep increase.
“Even though there may be a little bit more in the 2000s than the 1990s, it’s really about the same. So something else is going on,” said Lezak, who has done forecasts in Kansas City for 20 years.
Lezak said the difference could be a combination of around-the-clock forecasts and the explosion of social media. He has noticed a change in how quickly people react to winter weather.
|See more with Gary by clicking the thumbnail in our video player above|
“I think we’re a little softer on kids,” said Lezak. “But I think, most importantly, it’s that information highway. Superintendents are finding out what is going on instantly.”
Lezak said it also worth noting how a storm’s timing can make all the difference when it comes to snow days. This year’s blizzard arrived right in the middle of a school week. On the other hand, the 2009 Christmas blizzard hit when kids were already out of school.
A FORMER SUPERINTENDENT WEIGHS IN
It’s definitely a different environment than when Dr. Orvin Plucker was calling the shots. During his 24-year tenure (1962-86) in Kansas City, Kansas schools, Plucker developed quite a reputation as superintendent—one that still sticks with him when he bumps into former students.
“They’ll comment, ‘Oh, you’re the superintendent of the schools who never let us get out on a bad day!” said Plucker with a laugh.
|Watch more with Dr. Plucker by clicking the thumbnail in our video player above|
However, the retired superintendent said he and other area administrators would discuss weather and road conditions early on school days and occasionally decide to close. Plucker said it was always a tough call because of single parents who risked losing a day of income, but he believes students are exaggerating his reluctance to call a snow day to make for better stories.
Plucker told NBC Action News he attended elementary school in a rural area of South Dakota. So, on Feb. 3 when most area districts cancelled school because of frigid temperatures, Plucker was asked what he would have done if he was still superintendent.
“Well, it doesn’t feel too bad out here to me!” said the 88-year-old with a smile.
So kids, maybe adults are telling the truth when they say they used to walk uphill to school both ways in the blinding snow.
DISTRICTS SCRAMBLE TO ADJUST SNOW DAY CALENDARS
State law allows Missouri school districts to build six makeup days into their calendar. They are required to make up those six days and then only one day for every two days after that (up to 10 total days).
Kansas school districts can decide to build weather makeup days into their calendar, too. If they surpass the number of snow days, they will be forgiven as many days as they originally designated.
NBC Action News contacted several area districts about their snow-day situation:
The district has had six inclement weather days and has not made a determination about calendar adjustments. The original last days were May 25 (kindergarten) and May 26.
The district has had seven snow days. The original last day of school was May 24, but it has now been moved to May 27. Some of the snow days will be made up during Spring Break along with a day originally designated for staff development.
The district has had eight snow days. The final day of school will be announced once the chance for inclement weather has passed.
The district has used nine snow days. The tentative last day of school will be June 9, but it must go before the Board of Education for approval.
The district has had nine snow days so far. The last day of school is planned for June 1, and additional snow days will be added onto the end of the school year.
The district has had seven snow days and scheduled school on Feb. 11, which was originally planned as a professional development day.
The district has had six snow days. No decisions have been made about the calendar, but it will consider the options of adding days to the end of the year, adding minutes to the school day, and converting professional days to school days.
Kansas City, Kansas
The district has had five snow days. All five days will be added to the end of the year. The original last day was May 25, but will now be June 2.