It’s no secret that a decision to call a snow day isn’t always an easy one. Throughout the winter, all across the state of Michigan, school administrators have the difficult choice of keeping students, staff, and busses off the roads, or sending them to school. At Hamilton Community Schools, it’s a decision that superintendent Dr. Bradford Lusk doesn’t take lightly.

"The past several weeks have been tough as far as snow day decisions go,” said Dr. Lusk. “Do we look at forecasts and the weather? Yes, but the key thing for us is getting boots on the ground in our district, actually driving our roads and experiencing the conditions ourselves.”

In order to get boots on the ground, it’s to have a structure and consistent plan in place, which Hamilton Community Schools does. Every morning when roads and weather could be treacherous, Dr. Lusk and transportation supervisor, Kathy Dykema are out the door by 4:00 AM, driving as many district roads as they possibly can.

“I head out at around 4:00 AM and drive through Bentheim, down side roads, and work my way towards the lakeshore, all while being in constant communication with Dr. Lusk,” said Dykema. “As a bus driver, you keep your eyes out for many things, including icy conditions, drifts over the road, and the condition of the backroads, we know what busses can and can’t make it through.”

Dykema does this all while Lusk begins driving the north side of the district to Sandyview Elementary, down M-40, and around Hamilton Elementary, Middle School, and High School. Throughout his drive and communication with Dykema, Dr. Lusk is also communicating with other local superintendents to see what they’re experiencing.

“We communicate with local superintendents, absolutely,” said Lusk. “We text between Allegan and Ottawa County administrators to make sure we’re being consistent but at the same time, we keep our district as the main focus throughout those conversations.”

Regardless of if there is or isn’t school, Lusk makes a decision by roughly 5:15 AM. If school is closed, the communication begins with phone calls, emails, news outlet notifications, Facebook and Instagram posts, digital signage, and a website notification. If school is open, that’s when the transportation department gets to work.

“The first drivers into the office in the morning take a handful of keys and start as many busses as they can so that they’re warm and fired up,” Dykema added. “We all help clean busses, making sure snow is cleaned off, everything is working properly, and leaving five to ten minutes early for our routes if we need to. Drivers all pick each other up and make sure the students and busses get to where they need to go, our team is amazing.”

Not only is the decision about student safety on school busses, but also the 16 and 17-year-old students who are first-time drivers trying to get themselves to-and-from school safely. Another consideration is the six snow days per year allotted by the State of Michigan without having to make up days at the end of the school year. While the state could grant three days of forgiveness if districts go over the six, it’s another item to take into consideration without ever jeopardizing student, staff, and family safety. Dr. Lusk knows that parents and community members can get frustrated one way or another about a snow day, and he understands why.

“If we can get to school safely, that’s in the best interest of everybody to have consistency and learning occur,” Lusk added. “I understand I will never make everybody happy, the best I can hope for is that I can explain my thought process to parents and community members can at least understand where I come from. They may disagree, but I will always give my rationale behind it.”