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Late Starts 'Disruptive' for Students, Staff and Families

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Students across eastern Iowa got to hit the snooze button on Feb. 1, many for the third morning in a row.

In response to snowfall, school districts from Vinton-Shellsburg to Lone Tree canceled classes on Jan. 30 and scheduled two-hour delays on both Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. For many of these students, it was nearly deja vu; districts across the state followed a Dec. 20 snow day with a late start on Dec. 21.

Katie Mulholland, superintendent of the Linn-Mar Community School District, couldn't remember the last time she scheduled two late-starts in a row.

"We usually try not to do [two-hour delays] because they're very disruptive," she said. "They're hard on parents and they're hard on us too because we shorten down everything, all the academics, for the day."

For Chris Dunn, parent of a student at Garfield Elementary School in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, a snow day or late start can mean rearranging his whole day. That district also had the one-two punch of a snow day and two late-starts this week.

"I had to work from home," the computer programmer said. "If I had a different job, it's be a problem. Definitely."

Superintendents at the Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids, Marion and College Community school districts all touch base in the face of inclement weather to discuss conditions and next steps, even though their districts can vary geographically.

Mulholland opted to have the double delays this week because of the "horrible" status of the roads.

"The assessment was that some of the main thoroughfares that usually are clear, were not," she said. "If this were March and there was sunshine, it might've been a different story ... With the sunrise still pretty late, it was not a good idea to start [on time]."

When determining whether to have a two-hour delay or canceling classes completely, Mulholland took three things into account: the weather, road conditions and district employees' ability to clear walkways and parking lots to accommodate students and staff in a timely manner.

"It just seems like anytime there's any kind of snow, they're either out of school or have a two-hour delay," Dunn said, noting that he lives within walking distance of Garfield so weather doesn't present a school obstacle for his family.

Despite the disruptions, Mulholland said morning delays are preferable to calling off the entire school day.

"Generally [two-hour delays] are put into place so we can continue to have school," she said. "There's no sense in not having school if people can handle the road conditions two hours later rather than canceling the whole day."

Another advantage to two-hour delays is that currently students and staff do not have to make them up, while for snow days, schools must hold class on a day previously designated as a no-attendance day.

Late starts aren't a headache for everyone, however.

"It doesn't make any difference," said Whitney Escobar, a stay-at-home mother whose daughter attends first grade at Garfield. "I think the days that [administrators] picked were appropriate."

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