The Kent School District’s decision to leave schools open the morning of Dec. 20 after snow fall less than two hours before the first bell rang at its high schools created slippery driving conditions left students, staff and parents puzzled.
There were three minor bus accidents, which district spokesman Chris Loftis called “fender benders,” as well as other accidents resulting from commuters making their way to schools through up to four inches of snow in some parts of South King County.
When district staff sees the potential or severe weather during a school day, it dispatches a transportation team at 4 a.m. to check the situation out and determine whether roads will be safe to travel on. They need to make their decision by 5 a.m., according to district officials.
This particular team made the call that the snowfall wasn’t severe enough at that point in time to impact roads and that bus drivers, teachers and students could make it to school, according to district officials.
When reports came in an hour later that other school districts were closed, district officials stuck by their plan, saying that reversing a decision would cause too much confusion.
As reports went back and forth, district office staff received questions about the situation and why the district chose to keep schools open.
The questions and comments became a “cascade of emails and phone calls and messages,” Loftis said.
While the accidents were minor, Loftis emphasized that the district wasn’t dismissing them, and they are working to establish protocols to keep similar incidents from recurring.
“We can’t control the weather,” he said, “but we can control our processes.”
Tahoma, meanwhile, initially announced the morning of Dec. 20 it would be on a two-hour delay around 6:30 a.m. — classes at Tahoma Junior High are the first to start in the district at 7:45 while Tahoma High starts at 8:15 a.m. — then decided not long afterward to close school for the day, giving students an extra day of winter break.