What steps does it take to get there?


A snowy street. Photo courtesy of Flickr via Creative Commons.

Sadé Smith, Author

Throughout the winter season, students are always anticipating the idea of school being closed for a snow day. Students look forward to getting the notification that tells them they have no school the next day or even a delayed start to school. Nonetheless, the Prince William County school board works hard to find the best solution for students across the county. Their priority is to make sure every student and staff member remains safe. It is also important for the board members to ensure the students receive their education when it is possible.

When it comes to making the decision to close or delay school, the Superintendent of Prince William County, Dr. Steve Walts, has that responsibility. The best way to receive updates is through social media, specifically on the official @PWCSnews Twitter account or on Walts’ Twitter account, @SuperPWCS. Other forms of communication include email, text, the school websites, or news stations. The school updates are all sent out by the PWCS Director of Communications, Ms. Diana Gulotta.

Sometimes, students are only given a two-hour delay because conditions would supposedly get better. It is possible for a delay to be changed to a full-day closing if conditions are not getting better. The PWCS website states, “Decisions are made based on conditions across the county and beyond to create a margin of safety for all travelers from all areas of the county.” Road conditions in one area that look safe are most likely very different in another. Of course, not everyone agrees with every decision that the board makes. Parents and students are able to get in touch with some of the board members via social media when an announcement is made to state their opinions. Without a doubt, the decision making process is not limited to one city or district, but at the county as a majority. The website also states, “Extensive decision making incorporates field surveys, review of weather forecasts, and coordination with other agencies.” The process of deciding whether or not driving conditions are safe enough for school is taken very seriously, especially because the board members would not want to make the wrong call.

It is essential for students to understand the process of how the school board makes those decisions. While talking to School Board Member, Ms. Alyson Satterwhite, she shared a lot of information regarding the numerous reasons a school closing, delay, or an early release could occur. She stated, “It is important to keep in mind that the decision is being made across of all of Prince William County. The county cannot close one area without closing the rest of the county.” There are people assigned to drive around different areas of the county to determine whether or not the road conditions are safe for students and staff members to drive on. Although one part of the county may have fairly safe conditions, that could mean another part has dangerous conditions. Besides snow and ice, it is also possible for the county to close or delay school due to flooding and high wind temperatures. Flash floods have led to a school closing on multiple occasions. Satterwhite also mentioned, “In the past, windstorms have led to the closure of a school day. School busses are not able to handle the increased wind speeds.” With the estimated 60% of students that ride the bus, it can become a hazard. Windstorms also have an effect on students walking to and from school, as well as walking out of the building into their trailer classes. With a school such as Battlefield with a large amount of trailers, that is something the school board takes into consideration. When deciding to delay or cancel school, the board members should keep in mind that there could be a large amount of students who are driving on snow or icy roads for the first time since receiving their license.