Snow begins to stick on U.S. Highway 101 at the most northeast edge of the Quillayute Valley School District last Thursday. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

Snow begins to stick on U.S. Highway 101 at the most northeast edge of the Quillayute Valley School District last Thursday. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

WEST END NEIGHBOR: Making decisions for kids’ safety in Forks

SIX YEARS AGO, a school bus for the Quillayute Valley School District slid off the slick road south of Forks during a bit of inclement weather.

Ever since then, Diane Reaume, the district superintendent, has erred on the side of caution when it comes to her young charges and winter weather.

No one was hurt in the incident six years ago, but Reaume was certain to take the lesson to heart.

In the evening Sunday, Feb. 10, parents of kids enrolled in district schools received a recorded message from Reaume letting them know all schools were canceled the next day, as were extracurricular activities.

Parents received a call just like it Monday evening for Tuesday’s classes and activities.

Tuesday evening, there was a similar message indicating schools would begin two hours late Wednesday.

“I have rock star bus drivers,” Reaume said. Even still, she strongly emphasizes it’s the safety of the kids that always comes first.

There is no secret weapon in the district’s arsenal.

She and the district’s lead mechanic, Bruce Kennedy, use the same weather apps available to all of us.

The two keep their eyes on what weather is coming.

“On any given day, my lead mechanic gets up early, by 5 a.m., and personally drives the routes and then he calls me,” Reaume explains. She adds, “He makes me look good.”

Those routes cover the upper Hoh River area, out to La Push on the coast, and eastward just shy of Lake Crescent. If the roads are wet and clear but the temperature is set to drop, sometimes Kennedy and Reaume agree a two-hour late start would allow most of the dangerous ice to melt.

Often, superintendents of West End school districts communicate their plans to each other, but, as Reaume explains, the weather can be so diverse it really is a decision that has to be made independently.

Reaume is in her 12th year as superintendent of Quillayute Valley and she said she doesn’t stress over closing the district nearly as much as she used to.

“The kids’ safety is most important,” she said emphatically.

“We’ve only had one or two years with so many closures like this since I’ve been superintendent, but the past closures were more for power outages and wind,” she said.

“When I started in ’07-’08, we didn’t have the technology available we have now,” Reaume said.

She currently has cell reception at her home out of town, which allows her to access “Connect-Ed,” a platform for emergency notifications.

She can make a recorded message from her house, like she did last Sunday.

Within minutes, all phone numbers registered with the school district receive a message from Reaume.

She said sometimes she follows the phone calls with a post on social media and rarely feels the need to notify television or radio stations.

Ever conscious of how school closures affect families, Reaume tries to make the call the day before the closure, whether it’s a full-day closure or a two-hour late start.

On the early pick-up days due to power outages, she makes the call as soon as she can, understanding that some parents are far from the schools and it takes time to get to kids when you’re deep in the woods or working at Olympic Corrections Center way out on the Hoh Mainline.

Rarely do people give the district a hassle over closing the schools, according to Reaume, but the days do have to be made up.

“We have our snow days built into the end of the year because we have had snow as late as May,” Reaume said.

Yes, Washington state law requires that graduating seniors make up missed days, too.

“If we have to add snow days at the end, like we will this year, the seniors will have to come back after they have graduated,” she said. “We try to make those days easy on them.”

_________

Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the Sol Duc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or zorinabarker81@gmail.com.

West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.

Her next column will be March 5.

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