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The parking lot of Jim Hill Middle School. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)
The parking lot of Jim Hill Middle School. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)

Storms and School Closure Decisions

Lydia Hoverson
 December 16, 2022

Each storm is different


MINOT – Canceling school isn’t an easy choice, but in some weather conditions it is unavoidable. 

Mark Vollmer, superintendent of Minot Public Schools, said when there’s severe weather in Minot, such as has been the case this week with heavy snow and high winds, the schools have crews that start driving roads at 3 a.m. 

“I’m one of them,” Vollmer explained. “Then our transportation director, our utilities grounds director, and we start driving.” 

Those three individuals look at different circumstances on the road. One is the amount of snowfall, which Vollmer said has not been as bad for this storm as much as the wetness and heaviness of the snow. Another factor is the wind. 

Vollmer said Wednesday morning seemed clear as businesses were open and the city had cleared snow from many streets, but as conditions worsened throughout the day, the decision was made to close schools on Thursday.  

“The biggest issues we had were side streets, because the city was just working really hard to keep the main areas open,” Vollmer explained. “We couldn’t get in and out of our schools very easily, we had people getting stuck, two buses stuck by central.” 

Vollmer said it’s always better to make the decision to close schools or not early in the morning so working parents still have some time to find a place for their kids. The decision was also made to have school on Friday. 

“Anytime we have kids not in front of a teacher, I think it is a big deal,” said Vollmer.  

Vollmer said when school is closed he gets calls from parents either happy or upset about the closure. 

“Usually when people reach out and they’re angry, they do it at a time when they can leave a voicemail and they don’t talk,” said Vollmer. “I think in general people don’t realize we’re not making a call of whether to have school or not have school from our sofa or bed, we’re out on the roads trying to determine if we can or can’t have school.” 

What helps the early morning drive for Vollmer is taking his dog with him, a pet who likes to ride around town. 

Vollmer said one of the worst storms he has seen was when he was a principal in his hometown of Willow City on New Year’s Eve, 1999. 

“Y2k was a big thing because all computers were programmed only through 1999,” said Vollmer. “There was this big fear that every power grid was going to shut down all across the nation. So then on December 31, 1999, we get a big storm. I just remember that one because we had a bad valve in the hot water heat system. As principal I was on the lift trying to get a cap on that so we didn’t lose all the water out of the boiler.” 

Vollmer said he and his sons ended up spending the night at the school that year.  

As far as the amount of snow, Vollmer thinks the worst one was in April 1997, when Grand Forks was flooding and got snow on top of it. He said the April storm this year was also a tough one. 

“I’ve been a school administrator for over 25 years, and to be honest with you I’ve never seen any storms the same,” said Vollmer. “Eventually the sun comes out, the snow goes away, and it is what it is.” 

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