One of the most difficult decisions every superintendent must make is whether or not to hold school relative to inclement weather and road conditions. Nearly every time we close school, a few parents contact us to ask why. Perhaps an explanation of our inclement weather decision-making process will be helpful.
Every decision about school cancellations, delays or early dismissals is made with student and staff safety in mind. Decisions are made based on conditions across our entire 60-mile-long county. Sometimes conditions are safe on one end of the county, but not on the other. One end of the county may have minimal snow, while the other has icy conditions. Despite this disparity, decisions regarding school closures must affect all of Fauquier County.
As division superintendent, I make the decisions about school cancellations, delayed openings and early dismissals. The process typically begins between 3 and 4 a.m. when members of our Transportation Department begin checking the roads. Around 4:30 a.m. I begin communicating with Janice Bourne, assistant superintendent for administration, who receives information on road conditions and other factors from the National Weather Service, the Fauquier County Sheriff's Department, the school division's Transportation Department, and the Virginia Department of Transportation. As I mentioned, several of our school Transportation Department staff members "ride the roads" for a firsthand look, and I usually check several roads myself. I confer with Ms. Bourne around 4:30, and my decision is the best one I can make with the information I have at that time.
It is my desire to hold school whenever possible and safe. Toward that end, we devised an emergency bus routing system and have also worked to equip buses with snow chains. Currently we have 63 buses out of 181 equipped with snow chains. The chains work very well, and those that have them installed use them whenever road conditions dictate/allow. The snow emergency plan is designed to use during inclement weather when some secondary and neighborhood road clearing is delayed. Because students are required to report to alternate bus stops located on secondary roads, we cannot use the plan if secondary roads are not passable. If these roads are not yet safe, we simply cannot use the plan.
Some wonder why we do not use a two-hour or three-hour delay more often; sometimes such a delay is just not enough time to treat roads, school parking lots, and school sidewalks to make them safe. Please keep in mind that whenever we use a two-hour delay, school buses must be on the road by 7:45 a.m.
No decision will please everyone, and I find that support for a school-closing decision is most often contingent upon specific conditions in a person's own area. I know going forward that you will agree with some of my decisions, others not so much. I will always try to make the best decisions for the safety and welfare of our children and staff.