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Weather decisions for school districts start well before bus wheels roll

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Posted at 5:55 PM, Jan 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 17:55:34-05

The task of deciding whether to delay the start of the forthcoming school day, or to cancel classes entirely, presents a difficult, contemplative process that begins in the early morning hours.

Most school districts follow the same pattern, waking hours before the sun cracks the cold blackness of a winter's night to begin assessing the conditions, compiling eye-witness observations, reviewing weather data, and collecting information from other government agencies. What is learned from these preliminary steps then influences a final decision that is disseminated as early as possible.

Howard County Public School System personnel begin their decision making process at 2:45 a.m., when the director of Pupil Transportation reviews weather and temperatures in the county, according to the district's website. By 3 a.m., the director and others from the department take to the roads to investigate road and weather conditions. State and county roads departments inform the district of time frame for the treating of road surfaces and their general plans of action.

Carroll County public schools get staff out on the roads and investigating school grounds by 3 a.m. Baltimore County Public School personnel get going with there assessments around 3:30 a.m., also checking on roads and monitoring radar and weather reports while coordinating with municipal agencies in charge of local roads.

Baltimore County is presented with a unique challenge because of its geographic scale and diversity. Covering more than 640 square miles, the areas around Hereford in the county’s northern end may see delays and closures while areas to the east or south carry on with a normal day.

School crews in Anne Arundel County start clearing school property by around 4 a.m., the district said. With roughly 600 students being transported by bus each day, “the challenge involves how quickly bus stops and community sidewalks can be cleared, as these areas are not the responsibility of the school system,” the district says in a video explaining their closure and assessment process.

Crunch for most districts seems to be the 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. hour.

Buses begin leaving lots in Baltimore County at 5:30 a.m., pushing the district to decide the day’s schedule prior to when wheels get rolling. Howard County Schools take their last road assessment at 4:30 a.m., and by 4:45 a.m. they learn what county road crews think they can clear by 6 a.m. The superintendent is then relayed this message, who then decides if the day will start on time, delayed, or if there will be no school.

In Baltimore City, 5 a.m. is deciding time for whether schools may be delayed or canceled. If conditions are bad then, but expected to improve, a delay will be in place. If conditions are getting worse, city schools announce a full closure by 7 a.m., according to the district’s website. Howard County has a similar process. If the day is delayed, the district repeats its early morning assessment process all over again beginning at 5:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., any changes to the school schedule will be decided. After 7:30 a.m. “it is virtually impossible to change or modify the decision because of the logistics associated with opening a school system for daily operations,” according to the district’s website.

In every district WMAR contacted, the ultimate decision on whether to delay, cancel, or proceed with the school day as normal is made by the district’s superintendent, or in Baltimore City, the district’s CEO.

“The state has no say,” Carroll County Public Schools said. “It’s a county decision.”

With temperatures expected to plummet to potentially record lows overnight, Carroll County pointed out that they have never closed or delayed because of wind chill, and that “they don’t make a decision based on temperatures alone.”

When announcements about delays and closings are made, each district follows a similar pattern of releasing the information. Updates are made through school social media accounts and websites, and local media organizations are informed.

For up to the minute information on area closings and delays, stay tuned to the crawl on WMAR 2 News over the air or visit the “School Closings” section of the WMAR 2 News website.