Even if you do your homework, weather is an exam you’re never entirely ready to take. Recent cold weather’s impact on local schools is a great for example.
Assistant Superintendent of Carroll County Schools Dr. Mark Burnette said a major component in the delay or closure of schools in winter is temperature. He said in 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) or lower conditions, winds can drive the cold to zero or less (known as windchill). One strategy in the District’s toolbox is to announce a two-hour delay to give the sun a chance to warm things up, improving conditions (this wasn’t the case in last week’s “Arctic Blast,” where it didn’t warm up later in the day.)
“We have people driving the roads as early as 4 a.m., watching The Weather Channel and talking with other school divisions and the Virginia Department of Transportation,” said Burnette. “It’s a process. You’ve got to consider a lot of information from a lot of people and honestly there are times we’ll miss it. It’s the weather and you can’t control that,” (he noted a recent 11:30 a.m. weather event surprised the Weather Channel).
Burnette said once the findings are assembled, he talks with Superintendent Dr. Shirley Perry and a decision is reached. The word is then broadcast over the Internet, on social media such as Facebook, on radio and television and the School Reach system.
“Unless you have no Internet you should be getting information about two-hour delays or school closings,” Burnette said. “One thing we like to encourage parents to do is keep their phone numbers updated in the School Reach System. If you get a new phone and don’t update the number it won’t reach you.”
While the weather can be inconsistent, Burnette said the decision process always errs on the side of caution. He said some years have not been bad to the Division and this year’s starting out to be different that that.
“We do our best to always do what is best for the kids,” said Burnette. “Weather not only impacts the best plans of parents and their children, it also affects bus drivers who have other jobs and have to make adjustments with little notice.”
Burnette said buses need additional time to warm up in cold weather.
“In extreme cold, diesel fuel will gel. Drivers use heaters which they must plug up to electrical outlets as they prepare,” Burnette said. “Our mechanics do a great job of keeping things running but, yeah you pay a lot of overtime in winter, especially snow days.
He also praised the work of the District’s custodians who shovel coal at night in the boilers and then shovel snow in the mornings so school can open. Custodians and maintenance personnel also work during school breaks to do repairs.
“These are not decisions we take lightly. We are blessed to have a great maintenance manager (David Kinzer) and Maintenance Supervisor (Eddie Vaughn),” said Burnette.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.