Thursday, March 12, 2015

Snow Days, Canceling School, and Make-Up Days

With all our recent snow days, I want to blog about how GDS decides whether or not we will have school when there is snow or freezing precipitation. The night before or early in the morning (4:30 am) I routinely consult Jeff Booker, Gaston County Schools Superintendent, Marc Stout, Gaston Christian Headmaster, and David Fleenor, GDS Director of Finance and Operations, to get their thoughts. David Fleenor, in turn, contacts Harvey Maners, who oversees our bus fleet, to see what he is hearing from our bus drivers. Although the advice and plans of the Gaston County Schools and Gaston Christian influence our decision, Gaston Day ultimately makes its own choice. Sometimes it is the same as the Gaston County Schools and Gaston Christian. Sometimes our choice is different.

Our decision is complicated because our students come from a five-county area and because we have buses. I automatically check local weather reports throughout the night and also what the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is recommending. Honestly, if the NCDOT is recommending a travel warning or advisory for our area, I tend to comply with their recommendation, even if the roads look ok to me. From a liability, safety, and patriotic perspective, I do not feel I can ignore what the NCDOT is asking citizens of the state to do in our area. With buses and student drivers, Gaston Day tries to err on the side of safety in making our decision. But we hate to miss school.

There are two types of especially difficult calls. The first are those in which the inclement weather is predicted to begin close to the start time of school and/or the weather forecaster is unsure whether or not it is really going to happen. The second difficult call is when the snow has largely melted and the roads look safe enough to have school, but there may be re-freezing.

It is easy to make a cancellation call when there is already snow accumulating the night before and the forecast says that it is going to continue all night and stay below freezing all the next day. But sometimes there is a 30% chance of snow or maybe rain, and it is supposed to start at 6 am. That really is a tough call. Those unpredictable forecasts are the ones that occasionally cause us to start school in the hope that we will dodge bad weather, only to have snow start after we get to school. In that case, Kristin Paxton-Shaw, Director of Public Relations, sends out a Hypertext notice to tell everyone to come pick up their students. Those are not happy days for the Administration at Gaston Day.

Or sometimes NCDOT says the roads are going to be frozen until 10 am, but thawed after that. That's when we consider a two-hour delay.

The hypertext notice system really works well. Thank you for being so vigilant in looking for GDS alerts. We really have gotten to the point that everybody gets the message and almost nobody brings their children to school when we have cancelled.

Determining whether we are going to have make-up days is really an art, not a science. We have to attend 170 days a year to satisfy state requirements. We typically go almost 180 without missed snow days. So we can tolerate three or four missed days. But more misses than that and we start to consider make-up days. So far we are only reclaiming a single half-day scheduled for later this month. If it snows more, we may consider more make-ups.

Are we through with bad weather? I never feel safe until April 1. Some of our worst snows have come late in March. Nobody hates freezing precipitation more than I do.