Aspen School District’s decision to close school Monday met with praise, criticism, but mostly confusion |

Aspen School District’s decision to close school Monday met with praise, criticism, but mostly confusion

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Snow days mean ski days for Aspen youth, like Aspen Elementary and Middle School students Andy Bass and Max Brenninger, who hit the slopes early Monday morning hoping to score fresh powder.
Erica Robbie/The Aspen Times |

When Andy Bass’ father woke him up at 6:50 a.m. Monday to let him know that school had been canceled due to snow, the fifth-grader thought his father was playing a prank on him.

Bass checked the Aspen School District website in disbelief, only to discover that it was in fact a snow day, and called up his friend and fellow Aspen Valley Ski Club freestyle teammate Max Brenninger.

Brenninger, a seventh-grade student at Aspen Middle School, said he also thought his parents were lying when he first heard that the schools were closed Monday.

After Bass consumed a chocolate-cake breakfast of champions, the two celebrated their snow day the only way they knew how — carving early-morning tracks in fresh powder.

While the spectrum of emotion felt by students Monday morning varied little, feedback from Aspen parents and other members of the community was less one-sided.

Many questioned the Aspen School District’s snow day decision-making process, as the few inches of snow on the ground seemed a bit underwhelming to warrant the cancelation of classes.

At 5:15 a.m. Monday, Aspen School District Director of Transportation Gary Vavr counted 4 inches of snow on the school’s campus and said the snowfall was “so heavy and blinding” that snowplows were forced to stop plowing, Aspen School District administrative assistant Angela Rittenhouse said.

When Vavr contacted Pitkin County personnel, the county reported that it had not begun to clear Highway 82, as the conditions were “horrendous and dangerous.”

The Aspen School District must decide whether it will close by 6 a.m., Rittenhouse said, adding that at 5:45 a.m. when Vavr called Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy, he said that conditions “had not let up.”

Vavr also reported that road conditions were icy and hazardous from a combination of Sunday’s rain and overnight low temperatures.

For all of these reasons, “it was determined by the superintendent that in the best interests of overall school safety, school would be closed for today,” Rittenhouse said Monday.

In a post on The Aspen Times’ Facebook page asking what people thought of the school district’s decision to cancel school Monday, comments ranged from “better safe than sorry” to “completely unnecessary.”

Some recognized the challenges that the school district faces in making such a decision, like Brittany Reed, who works as a kitchen assistant for the Aspen School District, according to her Facebook profile.

“I was at the school by 5:30 this morning, and even though I live nearby I had a tough time getting there,” Reed wrote. “Nothing had been cleared, even on the highways. Between my co-workers and myself we saw four accidents occur on our ways in to work.”

“With the cutoff time fast approaching and the roads still being uncleared, I can understand the decision,” Reed wrote, adding that conditions this morning would have been especially challenging for young drivers with limited experience as well as students who commute from downvalley.

Other members of the community weren’t as understanding of the school district’s decision, and some were displeased to discover classes canceled Monday.

Belinda Oster called the school’s decision “crazy” and suggested a possible class make-up day.

Amelia Weimann wrote she remembers having only one snow day in the 19 years that she grew up in Aspen, adding: “We got a lot more snow back in those days.”

Other remarks read more like Gwen McKirahan’s comment — “Boo yah! ski day, mate!” — or like Angie Morton’s, which called the school district’s decision to call off classes Monday “an excellent idea.”

“You’re only a kid once, and they live at a major skiing Mecca,” Morton said.