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Snow days pile up for Michigan schools. Which districts have the most?

snow covered cars
Messy roads and cold weather caused schools to cancel classes this week in parts of Michigan. Districts get up to six days per year but need permission from the state for more. (iStock photo by PaulMoody123)
  • Some Michigan school districts routinely ask for more than the six allowed snow days
  • Most of those districts are in northern Michigan’s snow belts
  • Temperatures are expected to rise today but snow is in forecast for Thursday and Friday in metro Detroit

To southeast Michigan parents scrambling — again — because of canceled school this week, parents and educators in northern Michigan simply say: Hold my shovel.

"They don't understand what winter is,” said Roger Cole, superintendent of the Morley Stanwood schools in Mecosta County, about 50 miles north of Grand Rapids. 

“Four inches of snow in the Detroit area, and they think it's the apocalypse.”

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Michigan allows districts to cancel up to six days per year for weather or other emergencies. If districts exceed that amount, they must seek a waiver and permission from the state.

Since the 2012-2013 school year, no district has needed more snow days than Morley Stanwood, which canceled 15 additional days over that time.

The district has more cancellations, Cole said, in part because many roads in the district are gravel and become impassable when snow blows across open farm fields.

“I don’t have a fix. I don’t have any control over it,” Cole said.

State records obtained by Bridge Michigan give a glimpse into which districts are more likely to cancel school because of snow or bad weather. In the past 10 years, dozens of districts have sought more than six additional days, and 21 have asked for 10 or more days.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the districts with the most waivers are almost entirely within the state’s snow belts, with higher snow amounts fueled by the warmer waters of the Great Lakes.

“That’s where they get the biggest lake effect snow,” said Sara Schultz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake in Oakland County.

In Kalkaska, east of Traverse City, school leaders have asked for 12 additional days over five years. That area can get up to 160 inches of snow a year. Neighboring Elk Rapids schools have asked for the same number of days and the Bellaire schools, east of Elk Rapids, have asked for 10 days over four years.

The southernmost district with the most days: Millington in the Thumb, northeast of Flint, which had 11 more days over four years.

 

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This week, numerous districts in metro Detroit canceled school for two days because of messy roads from last week’s storm, cold air and high winds, pushing the wind chill well below zero and closer to minus-20 degrees. 

Under Michigan education rules, students must attend 180 days of classes, and the state does not keep track of districts that cancel fewer than six days per year. 

Some years have been worse than others, records show. In 2019, a blast of freezing cold forced Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a weather emergency and almost every district in the state exceeded its allotted six days.

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And over 250 districts needed waivers in both the 2017-2018 and 2021-2022 years. But in 2014-2015, just nine districts needed to ask for more days. 

The forecast calls for more cold Thursday, but temps in the morning will be about 18 degrees and the wind chill will be above zero. 

But the region is expecting 1 to 3 inches of snow on both Thursday and Friday, Schultz said. By next week, temperatures will rise into the mid-30s, Schultz said.

So far, the Detroit area has had just under 12 inches of snow this year, Schultz said, well below the nearly 18 inches that is typical for this time of year.

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