School closing or delay: What happens behind the scenes to make that decision in Virginia?

Posted at 11:33 AM, Jan 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-19 12:32:57-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Schools across Central Virginia, including Caroline and Hanover, closed or opened on a two-hour delay due to winter weather on Friday.

CBS 6 wanted to find out what went into the decision to delay or cancel class amid the threat of inclement weather.

"For me, weather decisions were always the hardest decision I had to make," retired superintendent Frank Morgan said.

Morgan spent six years as Goochland County Public Schools Superintendent and 11 years in Kershaw County, South Carolina with the same role.

"There are several factors. You try to look at what are the current conditions, that's relatively easy," Morgan said. "What are the projected conditions? And we have better tools than we did in the mid 90s. But you try to figure out what the projected kinds of conditions are going to be on the main roads versus the back roads."

Morgan said he and his team would usually watch the weather all night before an expected weather event. If your school is given a two-hour delay, it was likely to buy the district time to regroup.

"Giving the bus drivers daylight to see the conditions is a really important factor," he said. "In rural areas, that's especially important. You might have downed trees, depending on the conditions it could be pretty dicey."

Morgan said another factor was the condition of the school buildings and parking lots.

Not only are superintendents thinking about bus drivers and staff driving into work, but Morgan said they also consider younger drivers who may not have experience driving to high school in snow and ice.

"When school districts make decisions about whether to close, they're always going to err to the side of caution," he said. "When I was in Goochland, there was a young fella who had a souped up pickup truck. And the last question I asked myself is, did I want this young man driving in these those conditions? If the answer was no, that was the final part of the decision making process to close or to go on and delay."

Another factor Morgan said superintendents will think about during inclement weather is whether or not they feel like students who make it to the building will be able to complete a full day.

He said early, unexpected dismissals were worse than making the decision to close for an entire day.

"Really tough circumstances you get into school, and then you have to dismiss," he said. "It is better to make the decision when everybody's at home. And again, that also factors into superintendents' decisions. Because no matter how well you communicate, and how orderly you do it, it is chaotic on a good day to dismiss school early, in an unexpected way because of weather."

Morgan added most districts will make their initial delay or closing call before 5 a.m.

"You always want to make sure your communication is very clear," he explained. "Let people know what you're doing when you're doing it, why you're doing it, and I think that helps people under the standard decision better."

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