The decision to close schools or have a delayed opening is complicated by the fact that it must be made in the pre-dawn hours, well before buses will actually be on the road. After consulting with our deputy superintendent for planning and operations, our director of transportation (who drives the roads in the middle of the night), our director of facilities (who monitors our school parking lots and walkways), several City officials and people from surrounding jurisdictions, I make the best decision I can with the information available at the time. Student safety, of course, is the number one priority.
In addition to roads and parking lots, we must consider whether sidewalks and bus stops are clear enough to avoid having students walk in the streets. We must also look at the forecast and estimate whether conditions will improve or deteriorate during the day. Finally, we look at roads leading into the City from outside Alexandria, because most of our bus drivers, building engineers and teachers live outside the city limits. These factors are at the core of our decision-making process (and I would never jeapordize student safety) but in the back of my mind I must also consider how many parents have difficulty finding child care when schools are closed and how many of our students (over 54 percent) depend on school breakfasts and lunches for their meals.
The decision to close schools is complicated, and rarely pleases everybody. Sometimes, when the sun comes up and the temperature rises, I wish I had made a different decision, but each storm is unique and forecasts are often inaccurate. I must base my decision on the facts available the day before, or at 4 a.m., and I must always err on the side of caution.
We have three snow make-up days built into the Alexandria City Public Schools calendar. This past Friday was our fourth snow day and I suspect we’ll have several more before spring. The School Board members and I will consider several options for making up the additional days. One thing I can say for sure is that Monday, Feb. 15, WILL NOT be used as a snow make-up day. I know that is a big concern, so I want to put your minds at ease. We will gather information from the Virginia Department of Education and work with our Department of Human Resources to determine our best options. I hope to have answers quickly. I’m mindful of the fact that when plans need to be changed, you need to know as soon as possible.
I’m sure the kids are enjoying this winter. Perhaps we should ask them to stop wearing their pajamas backwards and flushing ice cubes down the toilet. Some of you may not be so happy with all of this snow, but rather than feeling frustrated and annoyed with the decisions that are made regarding school closures and delayed openings, I ask that you turn your frustrations toward Mother Nature, and understand that we care deeply about your children and want most of all for them to be safe.