1/22/16 Why schools close in icy weather

Why schools close in icy weather
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 1/22/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

This shot of the road taken through a windshield shows the conditions that persuaded ABSS to close schools Thursday morning.  
Submitted photo

This shot of the road taken through a windshield shows the conditions that persuaded ABSS to close schools Thursday morning.

Wednesday’s light snow was enough to leave ice on some roads in northwest Alamance County, which was enough to close Alamance-Burlington Schools on Thursday.

“The roads in the northwestern section of the county proved to be challenging in many areas,” wrote Todd Thorpe, assistant superintendent with the Alamance-Burlington School System in an email to the Times-News. “This led to the decision to close schools for students today and offer an optional (teacher) workday.”

The district tweeted photos of some of those icy roads taken from a vehicle at about 2 a.m. Thursday.

Caswell County Schools also closed Thursday because of black ice, according to the GCS website, and Clover Garden charter school in northern Alamance County closed. Orange County Schools and Guilford County Schools were on a normal schedule Thursday, though traditional-calendar schools had teacher workdays scheduled. Some local private and charter schools opened late.

According to Thorpe, a lot of people do not understand that the district has to make a decision long before most people go out. Even with a two-hour delay, buses have to get on the road at 7:30 a.m., not long after the coldest part of the day — it was well below freezing at 7 a.m. Thursday — and word has to get to parents by 6 a.m.

The district has to worry about rural roads, which can often get icier than city streets, and teenage drivers coming to high schools.

The school system gets a lot of criticism when early-morning announcements send parents scrambling for child care. The district also took a lot of criticism in 2005, when school was not delayed and a Western Alamance Middle School student died on the way to school when the car she was riding in hit an ice patch and spun into the path of a truck.

District officials say they walk a fine line and go through a lot to get the information to make the call.

Thorpe said he and other district administrators and staff check out roads around 9 p.m. looking for places where snow melt could turn to black ice by morning.

After midnight they check on those trouble spots, Thorpe said, even going as far as trying to cause a skid. They also checked with the National Weather Service, the Alamance County Fire Marshal’s Office and N.C. Department of Transportation to find out what they thought about road conditions.

When the forecast is clearly for lots of snow, the superintendent can make the call in the afternoon or evening, and avoid surprising parents.

The district did, in fact, announce schools were closed Friday before noon Thursday in the face of the severe weather forecast for early Friday morning.

The district does not close schools selectively because of the administrative headaches it would cause. ABSS already struggle to find make-up days in snowy years and scheduling them school by school could lead to conflicts. Some staff and faculty work in multiple schools so make-up days at different schools could have them working extra hours. It could also disrupt the schedule at the Career and Technical Education Center, which has students from all six ABSS high schools.

WITH A SERIOUS winter storm coming to town early this morning, many decided not to wait to announce closings.

The Alamance-Burlington School System, which typically announces closings between 4 and 6 a.m., said Thursday before noon that schools would be closed today.

“The severity of the storm forecast for (Friday) and Saturday prompted us to go ahead and notify students and staff members to get prepared,” Thorpe wrote.

Thorpe said make-up days should be announced Monday at the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education meeting.

The SAT tests scheduled for Saturday at Graham High School and Western Alamance High School have been rescheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20.

The district also rescheduled a public forum on redistricting for families at Smith Elementary School from Thursday evening to Monday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m.in the school library.