The process of school closures due to winter weather

Davina Gyamfi

A  50% chance of bad weather is always a coin toss. To prepare, the Fairfax County Public School system (FCPS) consults the national weather service, Virginia department of transportation (VDOT) and other weather and public safety agencies to consider if the likely conditions will impact the safety of students and staff. Some school workforces will also go out and look over the conditions of roads, sidewalks, parking lots and bus lanes. 

Before FCPS is able to make any finalized decisions on whether or not to cancel, there are a lot of factors to consider. At times, a weather hazard may be extreme cold, but because temperatures like all weather conditions change, FCPS does not set a rule that there is a specific temperature that can close school. 

 FCPS ranks the number one largest population in Virginia and is about 400 square miles in size. Taking into account that more than 100,000 students ride the school bus each day. As well as there are thousands of neighborhood walkers and the students who drive themselves to school. FCPS has to consider these factors because the safety of the staff and students is their  number one priority.

Additionally, students from all across the county may travel outside of their districts to go to  certain schools for the programs that school offers, such as the special needs program or advanced academics program. This is why FCPS does not close schools by region. If only a few FCPS regions were to close, those students who lived in the “closed” regions and attended a school outside of their region would still need to travel to the schools that are open, to not miss that day of school. 

The FCPS website is updated first when emergencies like weather related closing, delays, or  early dismissals occur. At the top of each page an alert message will appear with the proper information describing the situation and what to expect. When weather related closing messages are out, FCPS will usually send out the information to communities during the evening. Sending out information in the evening will also allow parents to make proper arrangements for their kids. However, at times when there is a lot of uncertainty of what to expect, as the weather is always capable of changing, FCPS will wait for the very latest morning forecast to decide. By around 4:30 am the next morning, the superintendent will have the final decision whether to cancel or to delay school for that day. As soon as the decision is made, alerts are sent through FCPS emails and texts, as well through local media. 

In this 2021-22 school year, FCPS decided that there would be five traditional snow days. Traditional, meaning students will just have that day off, and won’t be required to do any learning. These five “traditional” snow days may be used in succession due to a single weather event, or may be used separately at different times. As soon as those five “traditional” snow days have been used, FCPS will have to implement virtual learning instead of giving a day off. This decision is so that students will have the chance to continue learning. Although with the decision of virtual learning, FCPS will still have to consider connection issues and power outages that may all affect the choice of virtual learning.