Following the Flakes: How Snow Day Decisions are Made

By Maxwell Miracle, News Editor

Nine.

That’s the number of full school days that took place this January. The rest were shrunk or canceled due to inclement weather. Despite the strong  interest surrounding snow days, many students and teachers remain unaware of the complex system the county employs to make decisions regarding niveous, icy, and frigid conditions.

When winter weather is forecast, the county begins work to determine the scale and potential impact of the event. “We review information from a variety of sources — including county emergency management and state highway officials — about road conditions,” said County Crisis Information Officer John Torre. “FCPS personnel also go out and inspect the conditions of roads, sidewalks, school parking lots and bus lanes.” This information is then compiled for review by the county's top officials, led by Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who makes the ultimate decision.

One common misconception is that School Board Member Ryan McElveen plays an outsized role in delaying or closing school. Despite his enourmous Twitter following, Mr. McElveen has no direct influence on county operating status. “Students act as if Ryan McElveen is the person sitting down and trying to convince the school board to close school,” said School Board Student Leadership Representative Jack Child (10). “This is so far from accurate, it's incredible.”

The county’s sheer size and population can pose challenges for decisionmakers. With a student body of over 187,000 spread across roughly 400 square miles, weather conditions can vary wildly from school to school. However, because many students attend faraway magnet programs instead of their home school, shutting down only certain parts of the county is unrealistic. Buses would need to go to the closed part of the county to pick up students enrolled in open schools, defeating the purpose of closing more dangerous areas.

Regardless of the considerations taken before altering school hours, these decisions almost always draw criticism. Seemingly frivolous closings or delays often upset parents, who must make hasty child-care arrangements or take time off work. Students typically respond negatively when the county decides that weather conditions do not merit a change in operating status. “It’s impossible to make everybody happy,” said Angelina Vo (11).

Despite the complexities of navigating constantly changing forecasts, elaborate transportation logistics, and thorny public opinions, the county claims its mission is relatively simple. “The decision to open, close, or delay school is made on the best information available at the time,” said Mr. Torre. “The safety of our students and staff is our number one priority.”

With Additional Reporting by Curran Gilster