Frequently Asked Questions
Concerning Weather Alerts and Emergency Notifications
- How are families notified about weather alerts and emergency notifications?
- Why am I not receiving weather alerts and emergency notifications from ACPS?
- I accidentally opted out from receiving robo calls and text messages from ACPS. How do I opt back in?
- Why is there sometimes a delay in receiving notifications?
- Other school divisions around us have a delayed opening or are closed—or vice versa. Why not us?
- Why does school sometimes close early when bad weather isn’t expected until later?
- Why keep schools open?
- What is the timeline for making weather-related decisions?
- What time will school start if school opening is delayed?
- What time will school end if schools are closed early?
- Why does ACPS not always include the status of Rec and Campagna when sending out weather alerts and emergency notifications?
- Why are we having so many issues with our buildings and what is ACPS doing about it?
- How does ACPS plan to address missed instructional time?
- What can I do to stay informed?
Depending on the nature and timeliness of the situation, we may also send an email, text message and/or robocall. Notifications may also be made on or through:
- ACPS Social Media in English: Twitter | Facebook and Spanish: Twitter | Facebook
- ACPS Hotline: 703-866-5300
- ACPS-TV, Cable channel 71 in the City of Alexandria
- City of Alexandria eNews: Families need to subscribe to this email announcement list via the City of Alexandria website
- Local television and radio stations
You will only receive emergency messages directly from ACPS if your information is up-to-date in PowerSchool.
Please call the Opt-Out Hotline at 855-502-7867.
The system that we use to communicate with families in weather and emergency situations pulls contact information from PowerSchool. If your information is not complete or correct in PowerSchool, you will not receive our alerts.
Parents and guardians are responsible for making sure their school(s) has current contact information. At the start of each school year, families receive a welcome packet for each student that includes the information that is in PowerSchool. Parents and guardians are asked to correct that information, if necessary, and return the forms to their school or update their information online. That information is then entered into the database by the school’s registrar.
If you are not receiving messages from ACPS, please check your contact information by logging into PowerSchool (aka ACPS Academic Access – AAA) and using the “Returning Student Registration” link at the bottom of the left-hand navigation. Or contact your school registrar today.
You will begin receiving messages from ACPS within 24 hours of your information being updated in PowerSchool.
In an urgent or emergency situation, our number one priority is ensuring the safety and well being of our students. This might involve evacuating students and consulting with emergency personnel, such as the fire department. Once our students are safe and secure, we initiate communications.
There are some situations for which the process follows a scripted plan, such as a school closing due to bad weather. Those communications can be executed quickly.
For unscripted situations, such as a building or facilities issue, the process is more complex and takes more time to execute. The process typically includes:
- receiving initial notification
- gathering information
- determining the extent and impact of the situation in consultation with school administration, facilities, transportation and sometimes the city, neighboring jurisdictions and experts, as needed
- deciding the immediate next steps and/or resolution (Interim Superintendent)
- formulating the communication plan
- executing the communication plan
Translating messages into other languages can also affect the process. ACPS sends emergency messages in English, and where possible, in Spanish, Arabic and Amharic.
Depending on the nature of the situation, sometimes we are able to communicate an initial message while we continue to work the situation and then follow up with additional messaging as information becomes available. If action is required by parents and guardians, such as picking up students early, time is needed to work through the logistics. There is always a balance between ensuring the information is complete and getting it out quickly.
Although there may be similarities, every situation is different and requires some degree of flexibility and adaptation. Situations that involve an early dismissal or school closure, for instance, involve complex logistics and coordination among different entities before details can be fully communicated. In these cases, you may not get all the information in the first message. We will update you as the plan evolves.
4. Other school divisions around us have a delayed opening or are closed, or vice versa. Why not us?
When deciding whether or not to delay opening or close schools, we consult with our director of transportation, who is out in the wee hours checking our buses, streets, sidewalks, bus stops and school parking lots; our director of operations, who is checking the status of our school buildings and facilities; and the Alexandria transportation staff, along with those of neighboring jurisdictions regarding their assessments of conditions.
Because conditions in neighboring counties can vary from those in Alexandria, each call is made independently. Alexandria is considerably smaller than most of our neighboring jurisdictions. The call in larger jurisdictions is often dictated by conditions in far-reaching areas, where there is more variance in weather conditions, snow accumulations and temperatures and where students have to travel a greater distance to get to school.
The opening or closing of the federal or Alexandria City government does not cause the opening or closing of schools.
Buses. The same school buses that serve our preschoolers and elementary school children also serve our secondary schools. Once our buses finish their elementary school runs, they are off to the secondary schools. On a typical school day, afternoon bus runs start leaving schools at 2:35 p.m. With after-school activities at the middle and high schools, late bus runs can finish after 7 p.m.
By closing schools early, canceling after-school activities and completing those bus runs early, we aim to ensure that all students are safely returned home before conditions worsen, especially as the sun sets and temperatures drop.
There are days where the forecast does not quite materialize. But the safety of our students is always our top priority, so we make the decision with the best information we have available at the time a call needs to be made.
We know there are days when our decision to open schools on time is questioned: why did we make the call to open on time, or at all?
Our students go to school to learn and we aim to maximize instructional time so that every student can succeed. Another factor we consider is the fact that school is more than a place to learn for many of our students. ACPS has the highest percentage of students receiving free and reduced meals in the area at more than 63 percent. And, that percentage is much higher in some of our individual schools. Many of these students and families depend on the meals and services received at school. For every day we delay opening, close early or close for the day, these students are missing out on meals and snacks. And, if it happens to be a Friday, they may be missing out on food sent home for the weekend.
We need to keep our schools open as much as possible, not only for instructional time, but to ensure the health and well being of those students who are most in need.
For weather-related school closings, we aim to publish information by 5:30 a.m. whenever possible. If it is necessary to close school early, we aim to make an announcement by 11:00 a.m.
However, it is not always possible to adhere to this timing. Sometimes, we are not aware of a situation until a few minutes before school is due to start. ACPS gets the message to you as soon as we possibly can.
Kindergarten through grade 12 and Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) students report two hours later than regular opening time.
Morning pre-K programs (Early Childhood Special Education and Preschoolers Learning Together) report two hours later than regular opening time, and dismiss one hour later than usual.
Afternoon pre-K reports one hour later than the regular opening time and stays for approximately two hours.
For early closures, the dismissal time is two hours prior to the normal end of the school day. Morning pre-school dismisses at 11:00 a.m. Afternoon pre-school is canceled, however, make-up classes may be required.
When schools close early or for the entire day, all after-school activities and athletic events are canceled for the day.
We know that many families rely on Rec and Campagna for aftercare and that it is very disruptive when those programs are canceled. Our communication about the status of Rec and Campagna has not been as effective as it could be and we are changing our processes to address this.
Information about the status of Rec and Campagna is not always available at the time the call is made. Rec and Campagna are not run by ACPS. They make their own calls. Getting word to families as quickly as possible about an early closure means that we are sometimes not able to include this information in our initial message. Please know, however, we are always in contact with both organizations in these situations and are working to get the word out as quickly as possible.
Campagna is responsible for communicating its status directly with its families. If you are unsure about their status, please contact them directly at 703-549-0111. You can also follow @CampagnaCenter on Twitter.
For the status of Rec programs held at ACPS schools, see the City of Alexandria Parks and Rec Facebook Page or call 703-746-4343.
As information about the status of both programs becomes available, we include it in our messaging.
Our schools are old. Very old. Only three schools have been built in Alexandria since 1966, and one of them is still under construction. We have aging facilities and have lacked sufficient funding to maintain and modernize them for years.
The past few weeks have been particularly challenging because of the deep freeze that engulfed much of the east coast. The persistent below-freezing temperatures have taxed our aged systems in ways that they have never been challenged. Our aging HVAC systems struggle to work normally when it is so cold.
Our Educational Facilities team has been working round the clock with the contractors who manage our HVAC systems. Custodians have been in extra early to check the heat in buildings before school. Facilities staff were in our schools over the break and have been in on weekends to check our schools.
We acknowledge and appreciate your frustration about the impact this is having on the education of our students and want you to know that we share the goal of getting children into suitably comfortable classrooms every day of the year.
This summer we will undergo an intensive maintenance program at our schools, with priority to those, such as George Washington Middle School, that are particularly challenged during extreme hot and cold stretches.
On January 17, ACPS will welcome our new Chief Operating Officer Mignon Anthony. Anthony brings extensive experience in long-term educational facilities planning and will ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of all operational elements and programs, including building operations and management and transportation. A top priority for her will be addressing the maintenance of our aging facilities.
No make-up classes are required for early closings.
The Virginia Department of Education mandates 180 instructional days or 990 hours per school year. ACPS’ current calendar has 1,189.5 hours.
The first three snow days or days when a school is closed do not need to be made up. Day six and day eight also do not need to be made up. The instructional time for all other missed days needs to be made up. There are three snow days built into the ACPS calendar for days that may need to be made up.
If nine or more days are missed, total instructional hours will be reviewed to determine if additional minutes need to be added, or if schools have sufficient instructional time to meet state requirements.
For the days missed at John Adams Elementary School, Francis C. Hammond and George Washington Middle Schools during the past two weeks, we will work through the options with the school administration and staff and let families know if make up time is needed
- Check your information in PowerSchool to be sure that it is up to date. If it is not, update it now or call your school registrar.
- Review the emergency procedures on our website and become familiar with what you need to do during an emergency.
- Tune in to ACPS emergency communications channels as the official source for verified data in emergency situations. Refrain from calling or texting your child during an active emergency so that they are free to work with us on keeping them safe. This also helps to avoid mixed messages and confusion.
- Please do not call or go to your school during an active emergency so that we may focus on keeping your child safe. Again, tune in to ACPS emergency communications channels as the official source for verified data in emergency situations.
- If you need more information after an emergency, please call your school or the Office of Communications at 703-619-8003 directly so that you can get accurate information. And, use the official ACPS channels of communication.
- Join your PTA and support ACPS.