Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

How are Decisions Made about Weather-Related School Closings and Delays?

On mornings when your student can turn off the alarm because of wintry weather—or when you are suddenly scrambling to find childcare—a school administrator has been up since 3 a.m. driving around the main streets and back roads of Alexandria. At regular intervals in the wee hours, Director of Pupil Transportation David Rose sends updates to Interim Superintendent Dr. Alvin Crawley and Chief Administrative Officer Tammy Ignacio* on road conditions.

SchoolBusSnowMr. Rose is checking, for instance, to see if road treatments are working effectively to melt snow and ice, and whether sidewalks are safe for pedestrians. He’s also in close communication with his counterparts in Arlington County, where the road conditions are likely to be very similar to those in Alexandria. Around 5 a.m., a decision is made to open on schedule, delay opening, or close altogether.

Even if roads are clear, an overnight snowfall can result in a delayed opening because of the time required for bus drivers to clear snow off of the buses.

The record cold temperatures this past week posed a different set of issues for the schools. The decision to open two hours late on Tuesday was based on two key factors: heating systems and buses.

  • Many of our schools have aging and temperamental HVAC systems, so the facilities staff wanted to be sure that each school had heat.
  • Diesel buses don’t start up as easily in cold weather, so the drivers came to work at their normal time to turn the ignition keys and assess the situation. As it happened, on Tuesday morning 15 buses needed a jump-start. Imagine if children were waiting at a bus stop in single-digit temperatures for a bus that wouldn’t start! The extra time was also helpful to get the bus heaters working so that the drivers could begin their routes with warm vehicles.

In the end, Tuesday turned about to be a relatively smooth—albeit shortened—school day.

The weather so far this winter has resulted in three snow days, which is the number of days that were built into the school calendar. Any additional snow days going forward will have to be made up. According to Ms. Ignacio, the first make-up day would be March 14, currently earmarked as a professional development day for teachers. The second and third make-up days would be teacher workdays—January 31 and April 11.

After that, if necessary, the school day would be extended to make up lost days, and the last resort would be extending the school year.

*My thanks to Tammy for providing these details to the PTA Council at our Wednesday meeting.

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Desk Drive
ACTion Alexandria, in partnership with the City of Alexandria, Wright to Read, and Community Lodgings, is collecting gently used desks or small tables and chairs for children living at Brent Place Apartments. Children who receive a desk will agree to a pledge to complete their homework, read weekly, and keep their new desk space clean. ACTion Alexandria’s goal is to gather 35 desks, small tables and chairs, or lap desks by the end of January.

If you have a gently used desk/small table/lap desk, visit the ACTion Alexandria website to find out how to donate or call 703 739 7778.

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