Beyond snow days: what drove Idaho school closures this year

Whether due to blizzards, broken boilers, staff shortages, or widespread illness — sometimes the show cannot go on. 

This year, schools were closed for all those reasons and more — including a giant boulder blocking a bus route, a school that caught fire, and a mental health day after a series of safety threats. 

Fremont County School District claimed this year’s record for most closures, with 13 caused by weather, broken pipes, or power outages. 

It and the other four districts/charters with the most closures are all located within an 80-mile radius of each other, in a particularly cold pocket of the state that’s north of Idaho Falls and west of the Tetons. 

Between those four, 34 closures were for snowy, cold weather — including some days where the temperature dipped below freezing. 

With school out for the summer in most places, here’s a look back at the closures in 2022-2023 — including where they happened and why. 

Earliest closure: Aug. 23

Where: Idaho Falls’ Edgemont Elementary 

Why: High temperatures and broken air conditioning 

Latest closure: April 13

Where: Grace Joint School District

Why: Hazardous road conditions

Weather, illness, and facility issues: the districts with the most closures saw it all

A dozen Idaho schools had seven or more emergency closures this school year:

Some of the closures listed below were delayed starts rather than all-day closures.

Fremont County: 13

  • 2 for power outages at individual schools
  • 1 for broken pipes at an individual school
  • 4 for individual schools due to weather
  • 6 for all schools due to weather

While Fremont County School District had the most closures in the state, about half were just at single schools. Because of that, extra days built into the calendar, and some reserve hours pulled from the state’s emergency closure allocation, no additional days were needed to make up for the closures/lost learning.

“We were exactly on the line,” Dave Marotz, interim superintendent for the district, said. “We couldn’t miss any more so we were all just hoping that we could survive through this winter.”

Marotz said closures are always a concern when it comes to student learning. Snow days mean teachers have to trim the curriculum and focus more on critical concepts.

“It absolutely does impact students,” Marotz said.

And that’s especially true in an unusually wintry year like this one.

“I knew we were in a strange year when the kids started saying to their parents (they) just wanted to be in school,” Marotz said.

Teton County: 11

  • 7 for cold weather (extreme cold/wind chill — including as low as -32 degrees; blizzard/closed roads) (all)
  • 1 for broken boiler/no heat (1 building)
  • 1 for a broken city water main (1 building)
  • 2 for hot weather (excessive heat, no AC, classroom temps above 80 degrees) (3 schools)

West Jefferson: 10

  • 10 for weather (all schools)

West Jefferson School District, which has four-day weeks, added three Fridays as make-up days for its secondary students, who fell short of the required classroom hours.

Those snow days can be hard on student learning, Shane Williams, the district’s superintendent, said: “Any disruption has an impact, no doubt about it.”

But student safety is always foremost when it comes to closure decisions.

“We need to first make sure that kids can arrive to and from school safely,” Williams said. “Once they’re here at the school, then of course we can focus on the learning.”

Island Park Charter: 8

  • 7 for weather (-30 temperature; snow/road closures) (all)
  • 1 for illness (more than 30% out due to illness) (all)

Butte County: 8

  • 8 for weather (snow; drifting snow; wind chill factor; road conditions) (all)

Bear Lake County: 8

  • 7 for weather (including a weather-related power outage)  (all)
  • 1 for weather (4 buildings)

North Valley Academy: 7

  • 6 for illness  (all)
  • 1 for road conditions/weather

Orofino Joint: 7

  • 2 for snow/power outage (6 buildings)
  • 1 for staff shortages (2 buildings)
  • 1 for break in water main (1 building)
  • 1 for power outage (2 buildings)
  • 1 delay due to snow (4 buildings)
  • 1 delay due to snow (6 buildings)

Soda Springs Joint: 7

  • 5 for weather (wind/snow; below freezing temperatures; road conditions) (all)
  • 1 for snow and low visibility on roads (1 building)
  • Reason for the seventh closure unclear

Grace Joint: 7

  • 6 for weather (snow; wind chill) (all)

Basin District: 7

  • 5 for weather (snowy roads) (all)
  • 1 due to boulder blocking highway bus route (all)
  • 1 due to lack of subs/staff illnesses (all)

Blackfoot: 7

  • 5 for weather
  • 1 for water main break (1 building)
  • 1 for mental health 

Check out this document to see how many closures were in your district.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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