Five minutes with the SROs: Snow day!
Hazardous road conditions closed Moffat County’s public schools for the first time in more than 30 years Thursday, March 14.
Before spending their snow day on other projects, School Resource Officers Ryan Fritz and Nathan Businger recounted their role in ensuring student safety during the potent winter storm that moved through Northwest Colorado on Wednesday.
Craig Press: What caused the school district to delay transportation for students living outside Craig on Wednesday?
Ryan Fritz: Transportation wasn’t an issue in the morning. The storm didn’t start blowing until late morning. It wasn’t so much the snow; we had gotten through that before. When County Road and Bridge was unable to keep the roads open, that’s when transportation became dangerous. Students were safe at school. We had heat, electricity, food, and Wi-Fi.
When did you first become aware that the storm might impact student safety?
Fritz: Once I started hearing that highways were closing, that’s when I started calling transportation — the district — and talking. In the afternoon, we were scrambling a little to decide what to do with kids that lived out of town in places like Maybell and Sunbeam.
How were students and school staff reacting to the storm and developing emergency situation?
Nathan Businger: It was a very normal day at Craig Middle School. By noon, we had a plan in place. If they needed to stay the night, we had staffing. The school had food made up for students that were potentially going to be left at the school. Shelter was also arranged.
How were students and parents notified?
Fritz: At about 3 p.m., we called all students that live outside the city limits into the auditorium. We divided them into groups — students that ride and students that drive or are picked up. We explained to them the road conditions and closures — that travel was dangerous. The high school had a plan to get information from each kiddo. Some kiddos were allowed, by parent permission, to go home with family friends. This was approved of by parents.
Businger: Just after lunch, the administration (at the middle school) got with all the teachers and set up the process. We met in the auditorium and learned who rides the bus or who normally gets you from school. Then, we released kids as buses arrived or parents came to get them. Buses arrived pretty much on time.
When were students released?
Fritz: When I left at 5 p.m., we had two kiddos that the district transported out to Maybell. A bus driver took them in a 4-wheel drive. We had two kiddos at Sunset Elementary School waiting for their father to make it up Highway 13 from the mine. And one kiddo was waiting at the high school for mom to get off work.
Businger: All our students were safely out of the school by about 4:05. It was a 25-minute process that went very smoothly.
What about students at the other schools?
Fritz: They were all able to get students home without additional help from us.
What made the process go so well?
Fritz: The partnership. We’ve worked well together now for a while through all the leadership changes. I’ve been there for five years, and it helped to know what we’ve done in the past and what we needed to get done. The kids knowing and trusting me makes a big difference. As always, student safety is top priority. If we believed we needed to send kids home, we would have sent kids home.
Did you know the schools would be closed on Thursday for a snow day?
Fritz: We didn’t make that decision. I was kind of surprised. I figured the County Road and Bridge would get out this morning, but the wind didn’t die down in time. There were still too many roads closed in the morning. Student safety is the number-one priority, so if that’s what Dr. (David) Ulrich and administrators decided, we stand behind it. If they had decided to hold school, we would have stood behind that decision. That’s part of our strong partnership. They don’t question us on law enforcement; we don’t question them on school stuff.
What were some lessons learned?
Businger: I want to remind guardians to keep contact information updated with the school district. We try to contact guardians and emergency contacts, and we find the information isn’t always valid, or voicemail boxes are full. Also, if you get a message from the school. read or listen to the entire message. It’s important to obtain all the information prior to calling with questions. This can be done in the convenience of your home at moffatsd.org.
Fritz: The first point of contact in an emergency is the school of the child. The people that really know what’s going on are the secretaries. They’re your go-to person. Administrators are really busy in those time with day-to-day operations and decision-making. At some point, we’ll have conversations about what went right (and) what we could do better. We also had some conversations last night. Had we not come up with a plan, we would have had 100 kids and no plan. Better to over plan and not need the effort than to under plan and have to pull something out of your brain at the last second.
Businger: At no point did I feel the middle school was not prepared. I felt they were well-prepared for the entire event. That includes communication with law enforcement, schools, and parents.
Fritz: I would say that of the entire district. Activating the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) was helpful. It brought everyone that needed to be communicating in one place at one time. They could make those decisions without making a bunch of phone calls.
What are you doing on your snow day?
Fritz: I’m working some patrol hours. Nathan gets to flex some time off.