CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After Kanawha County Schools had an unusually high number of snow days this year, in addition to closures because of contaminated water, Board of Education members heard concerns from parents about how administrators decide when to call school off during inclement weather.
That decision is a complicated process that involves the National Weather Service, the Department of Transportation and other factors, Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said at a special session on Monday.
"It's never a science. You do the best you can with the information you get. We're in contact with a lot of people when making those decisions," Duerring said.
For example, last week, the weather forecast predicted 11 degrees -- not cold enough to constitute a two-hour delay -- but by the time school employees arrived, the temperature had dropped to 6 degrees. By then it was too late to cancel.
The latest the school system can call off school or announce a two-hour delay is 4 or 5 a.m. that day, Duerring said, citing school personnel, like cooks, who would be en route to school soon after that.
More importantly, it's difficult to make changes to the schedule after school buses are en route, which could leave students stranded at the bus stop while their parents are already off to work.
"It's safer to bring them in than to let them stand [outside.] We have no choice," Duerring said.
School board member Becky Jordon asked Duerring to go through the criteria on Monday after receiving numerous phone calls from parents about the recent school closures. Kanawha County students only attended about a week total of school during the month of January because of snow days and a chemical leak into the Elk River that banned water use.
"I think people think you sit in your home and decide what you're going to do by watching [the news] and then ask our opinion. They don't understand it's a process throughout the night," Jordon said.
Another consideration is the different locations of the 69 schools in Kanawha County -- the state's largest district. There are several hollows and mountainous areas in the district, and administrators have to consider those bus routes in inclement weather for safety reasons, Duerring said.
But the chances of only canceling school for students living in certain areas who are hit by the snow the worst -- instead of the system as a whole -- are unlikely, Duerring said.
"We would consider that but what that sends out to the public is confusion. Everyone will hear 'closed' and assume it's everywhere. That makes it very difficult," Duerring said. "Everybody thinks it's all about Charleston ... but we want the bus drivers in areas that aren't cleared to have visibility on the roads if there are icy patches."
Also at Monday's meeting, the board held its second -- and final -- required public hearing on next year's school calendar. The board plans to officially vote on the calendar, which could start school as early as Aug. 11, at its regular meeting Feb. 19.Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.