On Tuesday, schools were closed as the first snowstorm of 2014 dumped snow onto Fairfax County streets. On Wednesday, they were closed again as plows and shovels still had work to do. On Thursday, still closed, leading many parents scrambling for child care and wondering if the 2013-14 school year will indeed go into late June.
Fairfax County has now used six snow days this school year. There will be make-up days on Feb. 17 and April 7, but tacked-on days to the school year may be a real possibility now.
In years with lots of snow, the snow days issue becomes a perennial source of frustration. With more than 180,000 students and a footprint of 406 square miles, size is part of the issue. The county is so large, even the climate can be different. The same storm can pile six inches of snow in Reston but only two in Lorton — yet the communities (and the 1 million-plus people who live in them) are in the same school system.
School Board at-large member Ryan McElveen said Wednesday night the decision to close schools for a third straight day was made because of road conditions and extremely cold temperatures in the forecast.
“Back roads are dangerous, particularly with the freezing overnight,” he told Reston Now. “After a week of not being used, our buses are going to have major issues starting up.”
While FCPS will probably never break into school systems run by each town/jurisdiction (the way it is done in places such as New Jersey, Massachusetts and Ohio), what can be done to make weather impact more “local” and manageable?
FCPS already operates in eight clusters, with each area under the supervision of a cluster superintendent. Would going to a cluster system for weather impact be a viable system for Fairfax County?
“Breaking decisions up by cluster would be just too difficult to manage,” says McElveen. “Loudoun is in a very similar situation as we are, where the eastern part of the county is so different geographically from the western part.”
FCPS outlines the decision making process on its website.
“Fairfax County Public Schools is aware of the implications of opening school during less than perfect conditions and of delaying or closing schools when poor weather conditions exist or are predicted,” says the school system. “The school system understands that its students are better served–both academically and socially — by being in school.”
“On the other hand, the school system knows that it operates within an area whose transportation system has difficulty operating efficiently even when the weather is perfect. Fairfax County’s transportation system includes high speed, high volume roadways such as Route 66, Route 495, Route 95, the Fairfax County Parkway, and others. The county’s transportation system also includes narrow, winding roads in still relatively rural parts of the county such as Clifton and Great Falls.”