Delay in announcing KU class cancellation spurs questions, criticism

photo by: Associated Press

A bus passes in front of Strong Hall Nov. 16, 2015, on the University of Kansas campus.

The University of Kansas on Wednesday defended its handling of class cancellations Tuesday — when an early-morning storm encased the area in ice — despite concerns from some that the timing was poorly managed.

Even though KU had classes Tuesday that began at 8 a.m. or earlier, the university did not send its first alert to students and staff until 8:08 a.m. Tuesday. That alert notified the KU community that all classes before 1 p.m. on the Lawrence campus would be canceled. A second alert, announcing that classes would be canceled for the rest of the day, was not sent until 11:54 a.m.

Over social media, people vented their frustrations. One student claimed to have nearly crashed her car while driving uphill to get to classes Tuesday morning, chiding KU for “the lack of communication” over cancellations. Another student, who described herself as a “commuter,” said she “ended up halfway between school and home in horrible road conditions” en route to the Lawrence campus. Some Twitter users complained of being stranded on campus after arriving for morning classes and learning that bus services had been canceled.

KU’s Parking and Transit department announced via Twitter at 7:49 a.m. Tuesday that buses were out of service, about 20 minutes before the university announced morning classes would be canceled.

Others wondered why KU announced closing its Edwards Campus, in Overland Park and Leavenworth, at 7:24 a.m. Tuesday but refrained from announcing Lawrence campus cancellations until more than 40 minutes later.

When the Journal-World asked KU’s Office of Public Affairs about the university’s decision-making process Wednesday, spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said safety is “the primary criteria” when determining whether to delay or cancel classes.

“As we saw yesterday (Tuesday), road and weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly, and the people involved in the decision are responsive to those changes,” Barcomb-Peterson said in an email. “Our university is very different from K-12 schools — in terms of physical footprint, job functions and operations, transportation needs, and the basic demographics of our students — so our decisions regarding cancellation and closure don’t always mirror those of area school districts.”

The National Weather Service had issued an ice storm warning for Douglas County until 3 p.m. Tuesday, leading to numerous cancellations and closings in the area, including Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence Public Schools and Eudora, Baldwin City, Tonganoxie and McLouth school districts, and the Lawrence Public Library, among many others. Many of these closures were announced between 6 and 7 a.m., some earlier. Meanwhile, local law enforcement, including the Lawrence Police Department, urged citizens to stay home and avoid icy roads.

According to KU policy, “Whenever forecasts or weather conditions suggest that travel in the area could become hazardous, the Vice Provost for Administration and Finance or designate will confer with the offices of Public Safety and Facilities Services to assess the conditions of streets, roads, and parking lots and the anticipated changes in weather conditions.”

KU buses, excluding scheduled appointments with paratransit services, were out of service all day Tuesday because of the hazardous weather. KU SafeRide & SafeBus, the university’s late-night ride service, tweeted that announcement Tuesday, along with the instructions to “PLEASE STAY HOME.”

All other KU bus routes were back to normal Wednesday. KU SafeRide & SafeBus tweeted Wednesday that SafeRide services would be suspended again Wednesday night “in response to anticipated hazardous weather.”