Bad weather can have many ramifications but the mere mention of Snow Days is magic for students across the state and around the country. For students in the north, municipalities are more equipped with resources to handle the large amounts of annual snowfall but here in the south, its a much different story.
Even an inch of snow can generate enough ice to completely shut down traffic. Especially on winding mountain roads that have trees closely overhanging the roadway. Ice can build on branches which can lead to breaking limbs and downed trees with very little snow. A little rain or sleet can quickly turn to Black Ice on roadways, making driving more like ice skating.
All of these factors combine to create a massive headache for school administrators tasked with educating students, and keeping the safety of the students is the first priority. Chattooga County Superintendent, Jimmy Lenderman, provides some insight as to how those decisions are made, and the factors that go into deciding when a weather front might just become… a Snow Day.
PRE-PLANNING FOR WEATHER
When a school calendar is prepared, administrators plan for a minimum one week of designated “weather days.” These days can be used not just for snow, but for any weather conditions that make traveling to school unsafe. In Chattooga County, the school year actually has four days of school beyond what the state requires. These days combine to give the school system a buffer when it comes to weather and safety. Even when the weather doesn’t cooperate and the allotted days are exceeded, there remain some options. Lenderman says that the state actually has the ability to “allow schools to not make the days [missed] up.”
Lenderman evaluates weather by working with government officials and as weather approaches. “I always err on what is best for the kids,” says Lenderman. In Chattooga County, these considerations often go beyond just planning for transportation. Due to the socioeconomic make up of the rural Georgia community, Chattooga schools have many families who are simply unable to provide adequate winter clothing for their children. “Some kids still don’t have coats,” said Lenderman. “We give them one when needed.”
CHANGING WEATHER MEANS CHANGING SCHEDULES
Lenderman reviews the forecast and how it will overlap with the school day, and considers precipitation and temperatures to determine if ice or high water can impact road conditions. There is no exact science in preparing for approaching weather but school officials don’t mind being overly cautious when it comes to safety. This can often rub parents the wrong way when they are still required to be at work on a regular schedule in spite of bad weather changing the school schedule. The transportation fallout from the schedule changes are second only to child care issues created by weather. When schools decide to cancel, delay their opening, or release early, parents are left scrambling for alternative means of picking up kids and child care for the day.
In the end, weather days are often a source of controversy because of the widespread impact from a schedule change. According to Mr. Lenderman, the community has a common basic need during foul weather and that is to do as much as possible to ensure safety for children and those who transport them. While some parents may feel strained to adjust to weather delays, knowing their children are a top priority can provide some level of comfort. The words Snow Day will still elicit a groan from parents and a cheer from their kids.
“I try to make the decision as early as I can. Before I came here the decision was made in the morning which allowed no time for planning for what to do with your kids if school is canceled,” Lenderman said.