It has certainly been a tough couple weeks of weather in our beautiful county. We are certain that many of our families are as frustrated as we are that we have not been able to open schools, especially today (January 31). As one drives through the county on main roads such as Broad St., Fairgrounds, River Rd., Hockett Rd., Manakin Rd., it is hard to imagine that schools are closed. My teammates that drive the Western end of the county are reporting similar conditions on main roads. As we begin to drive on secondary roads, even some of the major connectors, we have significant concerns.
TODAY’S SCHOOL CLOSING
I personally drove Sheppardtown Rd. to Maidens Rd. to Log Cabin Rd. back to Maidens Rd. to Hawktown Rd. to Camelback Rd. Even in that short drive at the beginning of our assessment, it was clear that it was not safe for bus passage. Log Cabin Rd., for instance, had barely been touched with a very steep hill covered with ice. Seeing those conditions, we decided to close.
We also know that with rising temperatures, we could have been fine by 11am or 12pm, but by 9am when our buses had to be on the road, conditions would not be ready. The rest of our teammates were reporting similar conditions all throughout the county. While driving backroads, we rarely found a spot that did not have at least 20 ft. of ice about every quarter mile. We realized that if it were not the 10th absence, we would not even consider opening in these conditions. Here is an example of a picture we saw during our assessment today:
Some have asked us why we called for the delay in the evening, then closed in the morning. We were continuing to work with VDOT throughout the evening and felt like we had a strong possibility for improvement with their support; however, upon assessing conditions in the morning, the roads were not ready. We apologize for having to make the call in the morning, but we sent notifications as soon as we were certain that closing was necessary.
Many families have asked us about snow routes and whether we would consider implementing snow routes. The answer is yes! We are working on designing snow routes and should have an announcement soon. That being said, we have seen conditions over the past two weeks where snow routes would not have helped. Major roads for our transportation system, such as Sheppardtown most of this week (the road that houses RES) and Whitehall last week, would be required during any snow route. That being said, we will work to see if we can avoid those spots and select safe locations to pick up our students. It will take us several days to create these routes now that we know the worst spots, but we will be announcing them soon. Additionally, once created we will need to test them during another storm before making the call to be certain all are safe.
Please remember that February 17 and March 21 are now school days for students and staff. At this time, we have no plans to add additional make-up days as our calendar still has some flexibility. We are required to have 990 hours of total instruction or a 180 day calendar. Fortunately, our calendar allows us to miss many more days to meet the 990 hour requirement. The difficulty comes at GMS and GHS with the 140-clock hour requirement for standard credits for graduation. Last year, the VDOE offered us an option under our policy IKF-R2 to waive the 140-clock hour requirement under certain circumstances. At this point, we feel that we have everything required to waive the 140-clock hour requirement, so we are not recommending additional make-up days. We have no plans to do any days over Spring Break at all. If we have a significant number of additional days off, then we may consider more make-up days, but will consider numerous options before canceling Spring Break due to the feedback that we have received about the number of families that have already booked and made plans.
Teachers, as I am sure you are aware, many divisions have been holding workdays during the extended school closings. Assuming major road conditions are fine, similar to today, we just want to prepare you that we will likely implement professional development sessions or at least have classroom workdays and team meetings.
Thank you all so much for your flexibility during this difficult month of weather. Please know that we do not take school closings lightly. We think about the high school student that just got his/her license and whether or not he/she is ready to drive in these conditions. We care for all children and we think about whether we would want our own children out in these conditions. At the same time, we think about how difficult it must be in families where all parents/guardians work and wonder how they find coverage for their children. Lastly, we think about the child who potentially doesn’t eat or have heat at home when school is closed and we know that school is the safest possible place.
With that said, if it is safe to travel to school, we will be here. We will continue to find alternate ways to avoid days like today. But if it is not safe, I hope that you will trust that we are making a decision to protect your children. At the end of the day, we know that our children are safe today.