When to open and when to close in the face of severe weather
The decision to close school due to weather is one that all superintendents wrestle with anytime the forecast looks grim. Safety is, of course, the primary concern when making these decisions, but there are several factors to determine when it is best to stay open and when it’s better to close.
With public weather information freely and widely available, there is always potential that some in your community will disagree with your decision. This is especially true when severe weather doesn’t materialize after a closure; or worse, you proceed as normal, and the weather is more severe than expected, putting students and staff at risk. This is why it’s important to have a forecast that is specific to your school district.
Location-specific forecasts enhance safety and accountability, reduce costs by taking a proactive weather approach, and help you resume normal operations.
- Get the Facts
The next time you are considering whether to cancel school, following these three steps will help you make the best decision for your district.
Having a consistent source for weather information is crucial to making safety decisions for your school district. In addition to knowing the weather conditions, you need to understand how a weather event could affect specific areas of your district.
Earlier this year, a deep freeze in Texas that made national headlines caught many school districts off guard, mainly due to the lack of understanding the severity of the potential impacts from the unusual weather event. This scenario is one that no school district is immune from regardless of geographical location.
Phil Edwards, the superintendent of Angleton Independent School District in Texas reflected on his district’s response.
“I’ll be honest – I received the forecast, and it was spot on in terms of temperature drops and when it was going to hit, but I didn’t think a whole lot about it. There are certain, preventive steps we should have taken in the district but didn’t,” he said. “Having lived through it, the next time we get the information, we’re going to act on it because there were multiple consequences.”
Knowing the forecast is only part of the equation. You also need to know how the forecast will affect different areas of your district, or the hardiness of your buildings and vehicles.
- Consult with Experts
The superintendent is ultimately going to make the final call when it comes to delays or closures, but your district should always seek recommendations from experienced resources to help guide the decision.
Experts to consult with include:
- Meteorologists to provide weather information for specific areas in your district.
- District directors from transportation, operations and athletic departments.
- County and local officials, including emergency services and administrators from neighboring districts.
The most efficient districts will conduct conference calls with the full team of experts, so decisions are based on consistent and current information. Conference calls also allow everyone to benefit from questions answered.
- Follow Best Practices
- If school is in session, consider early dismissal, but it may be harder to get in touch with caregivers.
- Try to announce any closure decisions before 9 p.m. to meet nighttime news deadlines.
- If weather conditions are expected to deteriorate overnight, but may not last throughout the following day, consider a delayed start.
- If the decision must be made in the morning, try to make the announcement by 5 a.m. to accommodate staff and parents who are first on campus or may have further to travel.
As the leader of a school district, you carry immense responsibility to keep your staff, students, and property safe during severe weather events. When it comes down to it, the best decision you can make for your school district is to recognize your specific area weather risks and take a proactive approach to preparedness and response.
Megan Garcia, a trained meteorologist, is an industry expert for StormGeo, a global provider of weather intelligence solutions. Garcia consults with school districts often during severe weather events.
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