How the Decision is Made to Close Schools or Delay Start Times

  • Most ACPS parents and students are aware that schools close when there is a heavy snowstorm, but there are other reasons why ACPS may have to close schools or delay the start time.

    Whenever there is a weather event, such as high wind conditions or expected snowstorms, the Director of the Office of Pupil Transportation participates with the DMV Council of Governments Weather conference to be part of the coordination of traffic movement preparations for the following day.

    Later the Pupil Transportation Team members are out checking both the roads and sidewalks used by automobiles and walkers to get to campuses. Reports of their observations are related to the Director who coordinates with Alexandria City staff and other school transportation staff around Northern Virginia to discuss their assessments. Conditions in Arlington or Fairfax may vary from Alexandria City and so the ACPS decision is made independently according to the local conditions and our evaluation of the upcoming weather situation.

    The Director of Pupil Transportation calls Chief Operating Officer after conducting this assessment and together they discuss what recommendation(s) to make to the Superintendent.

    The Chief Operating Officer (COO) is also responsible for the maintenance of school buildings. The COO gathers reports from ACPS maintenance staff and emergency personnel to ensure that the heating is working as it should be when the temperatures drop below freezing.

    The superintendent conferenced in on the call for a final discussion and decision for the coming school day.

    Once the final decision is made, the communication process begins using multiple avenues to help get all parents and staff informed. The goal is to have all communication completed by 5:30 a.m. or earlier.

    There are many areas that are considered:

    • Traffic and bus safety is a priority, using the condition report on primary and secondary roads as well as walk paths. If there is evidence of conditions likely to cause skidding off a road, for example, transportation staff advise whether there should be a delayed opening or division-wide closing.
    • Some of the heating systems in schools are nearing the end of their lifecycle and struggle in severe temperatures. Heating issues in multiple areas of a building may affect whether a school is open or not.
    • Severe temperatures can also close schools as ACPS is aware that some students have to wait outside in the cold for their school bus to arrive or for their walk to school. There may be a delayed start to allow for temperatures to rise, wind to die down, or to make sure all schools are properly heated.
    • If there is fresh snow in the early morning, a delayed start may also be needed to allow bus drivers and monitors to safely reach the Transportation Center. Meanwhile, the bus engines are started to warm the interior of the bus and the parking area access is cleared of snow. Drivers arrive and clear off mirrors and windows to ensure that each bus is safe to begin the assigned route.