WATERLOO — Thursday’s snow day gave students in the Cedar Valley’s largest high schools another chance to cram for finals.

The Cedar Falls and Waterloo high schools were scheduled to finish first semester finals ahead of a long weekend. In both school districts, today is a teacher workday and no classes are held Monday because it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The end of the semester is being pushed to Tuesday when finals will be completed.

School cancellations were widespread in Northeast Iowa on Thursday as dropping temperatures turned roads from wet to icy in the hour before classes were scheduled to start. The precipitation became snow later in the morning. Many other school districts in the region are also finishing up first semester this week.

Finals were a “mitigating factor” as Superintendent Andy Pattee decided to cancel classes for Cedar Falls Community Schools. But “student safety is always our priority and our first concern,” he noted.

“Weather-related decisions on days like today are extremely tough,” said Jane Lindaman, superintendent of Waterloo Community Schools. “We take the responsibility very seriously, as we know it’s best for all to hold school as scheduled.”

“We made the decision right around 6:30, I believe,” said Pattee, in consultation with transportation departments and area school superintendents. “Roads at that time became significantly slick.”

The call to cancel was a matter of timing for both districts.

“We knew that there was going to be falling temperatures throughout the day,” said Pattee. The hope was the mercury would hit freezing after students were safely at school, allowing roads crews time to deal with slippery conditions while they were in class. “Then dismissal wouldn’t have been an issue.”

Lindaman was also watching the weather.

“We worked throughout the night to monitor conditions, and when they changed quicker than anticipated we were faced with the dilemma of making a late decision or staying the course and risking safety,” she said.

Tara Thomas, the district’s director of school and community relations, explained some buses actually headed out on their routes. “The roads appeared to be safe enough to run the buses,” she said. Once on their routes, “drivers noted the slick conditions” and Lindaman decided to cancel.

“We felt a late call was better than the alternative,” said Lindaman, “but we absolutely recognize late calls cause inconveniences for families.”

Thomas said that did require some additional efforts to inform students and families of the decision. Some at the secondary level who don’t take the bus were already driving or walking to school before they learned of the cancellation.

“The administration in the buildings went out to their locations as much as possible to allow face-to-face communication.” she said.

Waterloo and Cedar Falls public works crews were out over night and early Thursday applying de-icing materials to streets and preparing to adjust when the freezing precipitation converted to snow.

“We’ve been salting and sanding streets since 7 a.m. and will continue until they’re safe,” Brian Heath, Cedar Falls public works and parks manager, said Thursday morning.

“The thing is monitoring it,” particularly with the rapid drop in temperatures, Heath said. “At 5:30 this morning it was 40 degrees. Everything was dripping wet from the rain we got, and 20 minutes later it was freezing. We got after it and have had very few complaints.”

Not having school buses on the roads as that change happened was a plus for the crews.

“With school being out, that helps a lot, said Tony Pauley, operations supervisor for the Waterloo Street Department. “Things are going well. We started at 7 a.m. when things started changing over” to freezing precipitation with the drop in temperatures. “We’re sanding and salting the priorities (arterial streets) and then moving into the residentials.

“By the end of the day, we should be in good shape,” Pauley said, particularly if the snow holds off. Whatever comes, “we’re ready to plow, or salt and sand.”

Waterloo Schools will make up the snow day April 2, which had been a scheduled day off. Cedar Falls Schools will push the last day of school to May 31.

News editor Pat Kinney contributed to this article.

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Waterloo Schools / HCC Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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