The decision to close schools when temperatures plunged into single digits got a chilly reception from some parents on social media, but school officials said many parents were pleased with the decision.
Schools spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said Friday school district staff received mostly positive feedback when schools were closed Jan. 6 and 7 because of single-digit temperatures across the county and subzero wind chills.
“There was some back and forth between parents on the CCSD Facebook page, mainly between people who are from areas with more frequent colder weather and those who are not,” Jacoby added.
The fact sheet, “School Closure Decision Process,” includes information about forecasting, timing, where to find updates and what kinds of weather can cause schools to close.
“The fact sheet details how CCSD officials work with the Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency to track predicted weather events and assess weather forecasts, road conditions and temperatures in order to make a school closure decision,” Jacoby explained when the document was published.
At the school board meeting Thursday, Board Chair Janet Read commended the district’s decision to close schools when the dangerous temperatures came to the county, and quoted former school superintendent Marguerite Cline’s words in a Jan. 9 column about the closure.
“Frostbite is a real concern,” Cline wrote. “Not all children have warm clothing to wear when they are waiting at the bus stop for a bus that is 20 minutes late because it would not start in the freezing cold or is slipping and sliding on icy roads.”
As of October 2013, 32 percent of students in Cherokee County schools received free or reduced price lunch, which includes students living at or below the poverty level, Georgia Department of Education figures show.
Jacoby said Friday the information was gathered from many departments and staff from various areas, including operations, transportation, facilities and public information.
“The determination of whether or not to close schools for inclement weather is a complex process dependent upon a number of factors, with the ultimate desired outcome of what is best for students and their safety,” the fact sheet starts. “The final decision is made by the superintendent of schools, based upon detailed recommendations from staff who are working closely with public safety agencies, city and county governments and the county’s Emergency Management Agency in the days and hours leading up to a predicted weather event.”
Based on information from the document, coordination between the school district, staff, and city and county officials begins 48 to 72 hours before the anticipated bad weather is expected to arrive.
“CCSD staff begin monitoring the weather at the first issuance of an alert from the Emergency Management Agency and participate in countywide meetings and communication throughout the event, not just the night prior,” the fact sheet explained. “The ultimate concern is the safety of students, and sometimes the school closure determination must wait for the most accurate information.”
When it comes to dangerous temperatures, as was the reason for the closures last week, the fact sheet lists numerous dangers associated with below zero conditions.
“Dangerously cold temperatures, made worse by wind chill factors, are a serious threat to children waiting at bus stops or those who have to walk a distance to and from a bus stop. Very low temperatures can also affect the function of diesel-engine school buses, which are used to transport a majority of CCSD students,” the document reads. “In addition, school buildings are not immune to the threat of frozen pipes, or heating malfunctions, especially in older facilities, despite diligent efforts to keep all buildings in peak condition to handle extreme cold.”
The fact sheet also addressed road conditions and forecasting.
“CCSD school buses travel more than 20,000 miles daily, running 1,450 routes, carrying 23,000 students in the morning and 26,000 in the afternoon. It is essential that these buses be able to travel safely with their precious cargo; so, how the weather is affecting road conditions is a priority concern,” the fact sheet reads. “Decisions are made more difficult when temperatures are just at or around freezing, and a degree or two in temperature change can make the difference between normal, wet conditions and slick, snowy/icy roads.”
Once the district decides to close schools, an announcement is posted on their website, the fact sheet said.
“Both the District and individual schools utilize mass email notifications through its Aspen family portal system; and many schools offer a texting service, as well. Check with your child’s school to participate in these notifications. Local and metro media outlets are also notified when closure occurs,” the fact sheet read.