There’s “Snow” Decision Like the Snow Decision

Posted on: Thu, 11/30/2017 - 09:00

Decisions about weather closings are always difficult and often controversial. While people can always disagree with individual decisions, it’s important that we all know how FCPS makes decisions about when to close for the weather.

People don’t always agree with the decisions I have to make. But I never thought that some of the most controversial decisions I make would relate to school delays and closings! So here’s an inside look at what it’s like to have to make the school or no school call. My goal is to have students in school unless getting them there would be unsafe.

As soon as bad weather is forecast, our Transportation Department begins to watch the weather and communicate with County staff. We get email updates from the County’s emergency management team with the latest weather forecasts. We also get information on the County’s plan for pre-treating roads and deploying snowplows.

Transportation staff head out around 3 a.m. to check road conditions across the entire county. They also communicate with County staff, who are out on the roads as well, and with neighboring school systems. The Transportation Director consults with our Chief Operating Officer, who calls me around 4:45 a.m. with a recommendation and a quick summary of conditions. Then I make the official decision and set our communications in motion. My husband appreciates it if that call is short, so he can go back to sleep!

While I rarely question the recommendation, I once almost reversed the decision – and I’m very glad I didn’t! It was a morning when there was only about 1 inch of snow, and I could not fathom why the team wanted to close schools. However, that 1 inch of snow had frozen quickly, and accidents were happening everywhere. It was the right call, and I am glad I heeded the advice I got!

Another year, a snow squall went through at 7:00 in the morning and made a mess on the roads. We’d had no warning that snow was coming. I was actually driving to a meeting at the time and knew our bus drivers were going to face challenging conditions. But at that point, they were already on the roads with students on board. Thanks to their professional skills, all students arrived safely at school that day!

I often face pressure to make the decision the night before a snow event. I understand why that is, but it’s a real gamble. Too often, forecasts are completely wrong. It would be irresponsible to close schools and have no snow materialize overnight.

And what about during a blizzard? It’s easier to make the call the night before in an ongoing weather emergency. However, after a few days, I am getting regular updates on our progress in getting our parking lots and school grounds cleared. Again, the goal is to get students back to school as soon as possible. And our staff put in lots of hours working hard to get things cleared and ready for students.

Even students have opinions about my “snow” decisions. Two of my favorites were the rap song written by a high school student thanking me for his snow day and a poem written by an elementary school student about snow days.

After the snow days comes the hard decision about when to make up the time. Thankfully that decision is made by the Board of Education members! I wish us all good luck as we head into winter. Please know that whether you agree or disagree with my decisions, student safety is the most important thing to me.

How many snow days do you think we’re in for this year? Share your predictions with me on on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.