The first snowfall of 2018 is behind us, and more is likely on the way. As we are now moving into the winter months when “snow days” are a possibility, I want to take this opportunity to share more information about our inclement weather procedures and ask families to review it before another weather-related incident. All of us understand that any change in the school schedule is disruptive for everyone, and the safety of our students, staff and families is our top priority. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive.
How do you decide? Who makes these decisions?
APS consults with the National Weather Service, local, regional and state transportation and public safety officials; and neighboring school systems. In addition, APS transportation and operations staff drive normal routes to check roads in neighborhoods and around schools to obtain firsthand information on current conditions of the roads, bus stops, sidewalks and parking lots. Once this information is gathered, staff brief the Superintendent who makes the final decision in consultation with the APS Executive Leadership Team.
When are APS decisions announced?
We make every effort to announce decisions to close schools or have a two-hour delayed opening no later than 5:00 a.m. Decisions about early dismissal are normally announced by 11:30 a.m. Once a decision is made, staff notifies local media and updates all APS communications channels. Email and text messages are also sent to APS School Talk subscribers. (Also see the next two questions.)
Why aren’t announcements made sooner?
Many of us joke about local weather forecasters “getting it wrong,” but the reality is that weather conditions can change quickly. For that reason, we often wait until the early morning to make sure that what was predicted the night before is accurate. This allows us every opportunity to keep schools open (if possible) and operate on a normal schedule.
What if the snow hasn’t started by the time you decide?
NEW THIS YEAR: If the forecast on the day before a snow event indicates that snow will not start until the beginning of the school day, we will now announce a 2-hour delay by 6 p.m. the evening before. This will help families plan for a possible change the next day, while also giving APS more time to monitor regional preparations and to see how the forecast evolves over the next 12 hours. We will then assess weather forecasts and road conditions the next morning, and will send a final APS School Talk update (as well as through our normal communications channels) by 6 a.m. to let families know if conditions will require us to close for the day (rather than just having a delayed opening).
How are the Extended Day Program, field trips and after-school activities affected by closings and delays?
When schools are closed, all buildings are closed, and all school activities are cancelled unless otherwise announced. Administrative offices may be open but the hours may change. When school opening is delayed, all early field trips are cancelled and the Extended Day Program also opens late by the same number of hours. Afternoon field trips may still proceed as planned. If schools have a delayed opening on a day originally scheduled to be an “early release” day, the early release will be cancelled and schools will end at their regular time.
What happens when there is an early dismissal?
Early dismissal decisions are usually announced by 11:30 a.m. All afternoon and evening activities, including Adult Education, are usually cancelled. The Extended Day Program also closes earlier, so families should plan to pick up their students by 4:00 p.m.
What is the impact on the bus schedule when there is a delayed opening or early dismissal?
When schools have a delayed opening, bus service also runs on a delayed schedule. For instance, if there is a two-hour delay, a bus that is normally scheduled to pick up at 8:15 a.m. will pick up at 10:15 a.m. Similarly, for early dismissals, the bus will shift to an earlier timeframe. We also want to remind families that buses may experience delays because of traffic congestion or slower travel because of road conditions that normally occurs when we have inclement weather.
Do you understand how difficult it is to arrange childcare at the last minute?
Yes, we do! We urge families to make plans now for the care of their students when school schedules change. Families can explore options with their neighbors and PTA members, form community childcare teams to support each other, or identify qualified babysitters in your neighborhood.
Why doesn’t APS close schools only in those portions of the county that are most affected?
While many of our students attend schools close to home, many others are transported by bus across the County to schools outside of their neighborhood. Therefore, we factor in conditions across the County, not just one section or neighborhood.
How do I find out if APS schools are open?
Information about any change in operations will be communicated through all local media channels, plus AETV on Comcast Cable Channel 70 and Verizon FiOS Channel 41; the APS and school website homepages and at www.apsva.us/emergency-alerts; APS School Talk emails and text messages; social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter); staff voicemails; and by recorded message on our hotline at 703-228-4277 (in English and Spanish). We encourage families to make sure your school has your up-to-date email in their database, as well as your cell phone number, designated as a cell phone. Then you can just text YES to 67587 to receive APS School Talk text messages.
Will APS notify families if there is NO delay or closing?
No announcement is made when APS schools operate on a normal schedule.
What if I decide it’s not safe to go out and want to keep my student at home?
We respect our parents’ decisions to make choices to keep their children safe. In those cases, we just ask families to please follow the normal procedures to inform schools about your student’s absence.I hope this information is helpful. Our 2018-19 APS Handbook (pp. 23-24) offers additional information. Please contact your child’s school if you have more questions.
Dr. Patrick K. Murphy