Portland Public Schools has used 10 snow days this year.
The school bell still rings, but the hallways are dark at the high school. What’s happening at the Ionia County district is a similar scene playing out at schools across our area.
A wild West Michigan winter is to blame. More than 70 inches of snow have already fallen this season. It’s forced superintendents to shut down schools and tally up the snow days.
“This is unprecedented certainly in my 23 year tenure as the superintendent in Portland and actually, I’ve never experienced this in my 40 years in education,” Charles Dumas, superintendent of Portland Public Schools said.
Dumas said 8 of the 10 snow days have been used in January alone.
“The biggest issue is the drifting of the snow. We’ve had so much snow and it’s been cold, that the snow has stayed light and fluffy, and any wind causes it to drift. So now we have back-roads with snowbanks that are higher than a car, and anytime you get a light wind, that goes over the wind and drifts the road shut,” Dumas explained.
The superintendent took me on a tour to take a closer look at what Ionia County residents have been dealing with for weeks, but we had to do it with 4-wheel drive.
Knox Road in Portland is one of the worst. It’s down to one lane with high drifts that even caused us concern during the drive.
Small cars are especially susceptible to getting stuck, and Dumas believes school buses have the same odds stacked against them if they hit the roads.
“The biggest priority always is bus accidents, and the safety of the kids. But as we check roads, we’re thinking ‘can we get a bus down this road without getting stuck? can we get a bus down this road and still meet oncoming traffic?’ Because as those back-roads get narrower and narrower and those snow drifts blow in closer and closer, maybe a bus could make its way through a snow drift but if it meets an oncoming car, that certainly is a hazardous situation,” Dumas said.
Dumas said, so far parents have been understanding.
“Right now, there is only one plan in the state of Michigan. Right now, by law if you go over the 6 days allowed by statute, you have to make those days up,” he explained.
With four days added to the calendar already this school year in Portland, there’s still two more months of winter weather to go. So that number could go up.
“We have decided Portland Public Schools, to add them to the end of the school year, that’s what we’ve always done.”