Snow, ice and fog often result in late starts and cancellations for schools as we saw last week. For families who need to plan for those situations, Spring Grove Public Schools now offers instant text messaging to apprise parents on up-to-the-minute developments.

Superintendent Rachel Udstuen spoke last week about the new "Remind 101" system that she set up a few weeks ago, primarily with weather-related news updates in mind. In the future the system will probably do even more, she explained.

"This is for families who go to sleep at night and know that the weather is going to be crummy," Udstuen said. "They can wake up in the morning, go to their phone, and find out right away if classes are cancelled, or we're going to have a late start, rather than having to go and see what television or radio station that announcement is on.

"We always try to put those announcements on the same places, but sometimes it might not always get on the air correctly. It might take me 20 minutes to get it updated.

"A lot of school districts use it. It's also a way for teachers and coaches to set up message accounts for parents and students."

Any cell phone that can receive text messages can get the school message, which essentially goes out to families the instant Udstuen sends it. You don't need a smart phone.

To sign up, users log in by sending a text message containing a unique code number. That code automatically links them to the specific account that Udstuen has set up. Nothing more is required.

To sign up parents should send the text: @sgschool to 917-746-3040. If you have any questions or problems contact the Spring Grove District office at (507) 498-3221.

The system protects privacy in that teachers or administrators never see a parent's or student's cell phone number and vice versa. Users are identified only by name.

"The group that I have set up is for parents, but there are also kids on there," Udstuen added.

"It's good to be able to notify families almost immediately when there's a weather-related cancellation or late start. I know that when a lot of families find that out, they have to make arrangements to make sure that their kids have child care, for example.

"I usually get my call (on the latest road and weather conditions) early, and our decision is made by 6 a.m. I can then call the radio station and the TV stations."

The Remind 101 website says that each classroom instructor can set up a unique account, so each can send their own notifications.

Udstuen said that Spring Grove teachers have not yet begun to set up their own individual classroom notifications such as "note to class: remember to read chapter five!" but that could change before too long.

Another obvious use is for coaches to contact athletes and families about extracurricular postponements and cancellations.

"I just heard about this in December at the Minnesota Technology Conference," Udstuen said "I said, 'let me test-run it to see how it works.' Now I'm going to be sharing it with staff."