How does WCPSS decide to close school for snow?

WCPSS announced on Twitter that school was closed on Wednesday, January 11 due to inclement weather as a result of a winter storm. School officials gather information such as road and school campus conditions when determining whether or not to cancel school because of weather.

When wintry weather arises in Wake County, students and parents across the county anxiously wait to see if Wake County Public School System will cancel or delay school. The process of determining whether or not to cancel school due to the weather is a serious situation that can be a challenge for all school systems.

When making a choice concerning school when inclement weather arises, school districts have to take into account many factors to make what they think is the best decision. According to the National Weather Service, schools and districts should ask themselves two main questions when considering cancelling classes due to snow:

  1. How much time do you have before the storm impacts the area?
  2. What kind of an impact will the storm make?

The timing and impact of a storm can be crucial in determining whether or not classes should be cancelled. If a snow storm is supposed to impact an area at 12:00 p.m., then the school district for that area may decide to release students early. The decision may also may be dramatically affected if one foot of snow is forecasted to fall as opposed to one inch.

When a winter storm is forecast to hit Wake County, WCPSS officials try to gather as much information as possible regarding the storm and how it could potentially affect the area. To obtain these weather details, WCPSS reaches out to three key contacts: the National Weather Service, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and if the situation is severe, Wake County Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service provides updated weather forecasts for the public and can inform WCPSS about the estimated storm arrival time, predicted snow and ice accumulations and forecasted impact. The NWS can also provide district officials with updated models to make sure that they are informed of the most accurate details about a winter storm.

WCPSS contacts the North Carolina Department of Transportation to gather information about road conditions. NCDOT can prodive Wake County with detailed information about the amount of ice and snow on main and secondary roads and updates on how road conditions are impacting travel.

Making the decision to cancel school can be very dependent on the conditions of the roads throughout the county. In some cases, after wintry precipitation falls, main roads are clear and safe to drive on, but secondary roads are treacherous and covered by layers of snow and ice. Even though main streets may be clear, Wake County sometimes has to cancel or delay school because secondary streets are too dangerous for cars and buses to travel on.

Secondary roads aren’t cleared as quickly as main roads in large part due to the NCDOT Snow Clearing Policy. The policy states that primary interstates, four-lane roads, primary roads, and secondary roads within the Bare Pavement System (a system which prioritizes certain main roads regarding snow clearing) are cleared of snow and ice first. Federal and state roads not within the Bare Pavement System are cleared next, followed by other paved secondary roads not within the Bare Pavement System and unpaved secondary roads.

WCPSS also has a designated group of staff members who survey the roads and school campuses across the county. Information gathered by the group, along with information provided by a larger group of school system officials and outside sources, is used to make a final decision on whether or not to cancel school.

Tim Simmons, WCPSS Chief of Communications, said that a group of WCPSS officials then come together to make the crucial conclusion regarding the status of school.

“The final decision is made by the school superintendent, who consults with the larger group” said Simmons via email. “[The large] group includes representatives from Transportation, Facilities, Academics, Technology, Finance and Communications.”

The final decision is then communicated to students, parents, and teachers via phone, the WCPSS website, local radio and news stations, and social media.

According to the inclement weather page on the Wake County Public School System website, weather-related school decisions are announced at 4:45 a.m. unless the weather is dangerous enough to determine a decision the day or night before. If that is the case, the announcement will be made in time for the 11:00 p.m. newscasts.

When determining the status of school, Simmons said that keeping families and faculty is safe is the most important factor to consider. However, it can be difficult to always make the best decision, since Wake County is such a large county encompassing thousands of students.

“Conditions and even forecasts can vary significantly within a district the size of Wake County,” said Simmons. “That can leave the district with a lot to consider.”

By gathering accurate data and carefully consulting together, WCPSS officials are able to make what they think is the best decision concerning the status of school when threatened by winter weather.


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