Stay open, call a snow day or start school later? Close early or cancel activities?
When bad weather hits, here's how the decision about schools is made.
When PSD gets a weather advisory from the National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association or Emergency Management Services about a storm, PSD sets a plan depending on when and where the storm or weather system is projected to hit. Contrary to what people think, calling for a snow day is mostly about transportation and road conditions, not the amount of snow we get. Dedicated staff members closely monitor temperatures and live-video feeds from cameras across the region.
If a snow storm is coming overnight, for example, PSD transportation drivers start about midnight driving all over the roughly 1,800-square-mile district from Red Feather Lakes to Wellington to Windsor, reporting road conditions.
At about 4:30 a.m., the PSD superintendent, the executive director of operations and the director of transportation join a conference call with representatives of Colorado State University, the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County and various emergency management and response services. The discussion includes incoming weather reports, and plow schedules, as well as current and projected road conditions for when our buses leave the yard at 5:30 a.m.
Then, it’s decision time.
The superintendent typically confers with the executive director of operations about multiple factors, including the timing of snow removal in parking lots, how buses will do on the roads, whether the plows can get to the main roads in time, and outside temperatures (thinking of students waiting for a bus). While safety of kids is paramount, the superintendent balances that with the importance of students being able to go to school to learn and access critical services, such as breakfast and lunch services through our Child Nutrition Department.
The decision may have one of these outcomes: stay open, delay start by two hours or close. If we stay open, everyone goes to work and school as usual. More information about these outcomes are available on the Inclement Weather Procedures web page.
If the decision is to delay the start of school or close, the superintendent calls the PSD communications team, and they begin the process of notifying parents, staff and local media of the delay/closure. All of this usually happens by 5:30 a.m. so the calls, emails, social media posts and texts can go out before kids and staff leave for school. There are also instances when conditions develop during the school day, calling for the cancelation of afternoon activities and athletics. Information about school closures, delayed starts and early releases is always posted to the district website as another way to reach people.
PSD always uses student and staff safety as the guiding principle when making weather-related school decisions, which are often not agreed on by everyone. Parents who don’t feel it is safe to send their child to school, may always opt to keep them at home.
So, the next time you hear of a storm or other significant weather system coming, remember that PSD will be up from about midnight on to check the roads and make sure it is as safe as possible to get to school.