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Calling snow days: Next LPS superintendent has great power, great responsibility | Education

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To call or not to call a snow day.

That is the question many school superintendents — primarily in the Midwest — have to answer during the cold, winter months, often amid the supplication of students and the prognostications of adults on social media.

Don’t forget the superstitious bedtime rituals. Who hasn’t tried the inside-out pajamas trick?

On Tuesday, after a bout of winter weather coated Sioux City, Iowa, in a half-inch of snow and freezing drizzle, Paul Gausman called off classes because of icy road conditions — the first snow day of the school year for Sioux City students.

Tuesday was also the day the Lincoln Board of Education selected Gausman, the head of Sioux City schools since 2008, to be Lincoln Public Schools’ next superintendent.

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A good omen for snow day enthusiasts?

I decided to do some sleuthing to find out.

On Wednesday, I called up to Sioux City to see if the district keeps track of snow day data (it does) and compared that with current LPS superintendent Steve Joel’s snow day track record.

Recall that when Joel first arrived in Lincoln more than 11 years ago, he brought with him a reputation for not calling snow days. He even wrote a letter to staff and parents saying he would not call a snow day based on a forecast.

Some years later, he rightly changed his approach, but what do the numbers show?

The Sioux City data only goes back to the 2015-16 school year, and since then, Gausman has called 18 weather-related days off. During that same time span, Joel called 17, including that unusual “wind day” last December.

Of course, there are caveats to a comparison like this.

Lincoln is not Sioux City, which lies about two hours north and east near the border of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. Sioux City is also a lot hillier, which makes getting around on snowy days trickier.

Gausman said he likes to take on the snow day crowd in Sioux City, often engaging in playful banter with students on Twitter. 

But Joel has a bit of advice for Gausman when he comes to Lincoln in July.

“I would tell him this: I would expect to get a beating on snow days in Lincoln,” Joel said. “It comes with the territory.”

Speaking of snow days, LPS has technically run out of them this school year.

Each year, the district has a surplus of required instructional hours built into the school calendar that can be used for days off for whatever reason.

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With an additional day built into fall break, the day off for those crazy storms in December and those three Fridays off in January and February, LPS would fall short of the required instructional hours at the elementary and middle school level if a snow day was called.

That doesn’t mean the district can’t call one in case of a late-winter storm.

LPS can file a waiver with the Nebraska Department of Education, which is being more flexible with instructional hours required for accreditation purposes during the pandemic. LPS high schools have already used up their surplus hours — albeit just barely.

Last year, Joel dipped into that fund of additional instructional hours quite a lot, calling five snow days during a particularly brutal winter. In Sioux City, Gausman called just three.

Now who’s the snow day stickler?