Why Denver Public Schools Decided to Call a Snow Day This Time

A look at Denver streets last night, as the weather system currently lingering over the city was just getting started.
A look at Denver streets last night, as the weather system currently lingering over the city was just getting started. Denver7 via YouTube
As we noted in our post about preparations for Denver's first major snowstorm of 2020, which struck on February 3, there's nothing trickier for governmental agencies than dealing with big weather systems — and that includes Denver Public Schools, which has a history of getting bashed on social media whether administrators opt to leave facilities open or shut them down.

So why did DPS decide to declare a snow day early this morning, along with every other major district in the metro area? The folks there have clearly learned from a very recent lesson.

Rather than closing schools on Tuesday, February 4, after a significant but far from historic amount of snow had accumulated on Denver streets, DPS officials took a middle ground, declaring a two-hour late start. But as many educators with whom we've spoken have told us over the years, this format often results in a wasted school day, and that's what happened this time around.

Indeed, many parents living in the district chose not to send their kids to school at all on Tuesday, resulting in attendance that was down by 50 percent or more in many facilities, according to our sources. Under these circumstances, it's pointless for teachers to introduce new material, since at least half of the pupils will instantly be behind their peers. That's why most teachers with whom we spoke shifted gears and reviewed previous material or filled extra time by showing movies.

Mere days later, DPS found itself in a similar situation. The current storm turned out to be more vigorous than originally foreseen but hardly the kind of dumpage event that made closing an easy call. And so the district dragged its feet, waiting until 9:58 p.m. on February 6 to post the following explanation on its Facebook page:
With tonight’s fast-changing weather conditions, we want to wait and take some more time to see how storm conditions progress before making a decision on Friday’s school day. Our Operations Teams will look at weather and road conditions at 4 a.m. and make the decision shortly thereafter about the school day.

We try as much as possible to make this decision sooner, ideally the evening before in order to give families as much planning time as we can, but in the case of tonight’s fast-changing conditions, we felt it would be better to wait until early in the morning in order to make the best decision. We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we all try and cope with Colorado’s unpredictable winter storms.
This morning, driving conditions were lousy, in part because of what appeared to be a logy response from local agencies in charge of treating streets. During my commute from the Ken-Caryl Ranch area in Jefferson County to Denver's Golden Triangle, where Westword's office is located, there was a considerable layer of ice and snow on roadways and very little lane definition until I got closer to the city — yet I saw a grand total of one plow en route.

This scenario had to be obvious to DPS personnel, too — and since instituting another delayed start right before a weekend would undoubtedly stoke the ire of Twitter users, the district posted this at 4:43 a.m.: "All DPS schools and administrative offices are closed Friday, Feb. 7 due to severe weather. All school-related events and activities are also canceled. We will continue to monitor the weather and will announce any updates first on the DPS website and district social media channels."

Not every Facebook response to this move was friendly. One person wrote, "Took you long enough. What happened to 4 a.m.?" But the majority of the reactions expressed gratitude, including a GIF of a dancing cat and a graphic that simply reads, "Thank you."

What do you know? After failing its warm-up exercise, DPS seems to be getting passing grades.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts