APS Prepares for Winter Weather

Colder temperatures have arrived, and I want to share, as the new superintendent, how the district goes about our decision process for weather-related school delays and closings.

I know how frustrating and scary it can be not knowing if bad weather will impact you and your family, especially when our littlest ones are on buses or walking home while you are at work or trying to get home yourself. Having studied, lived and worked in cities and states with snow and ice such as Cambridge, Mass. (always cold and snowy), Washington, DC (sometimes cold and snowy), Saint Paul, Minnesota (absolutely freezing, snowy and icy) and Austin, Texas (icy);  I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would know about bad weather and its impact on schools. I know what it takes to ensure the school system is doing all it can to keep our staff and students safe and our families informed, but I do not control “Mother Nature” so we will do what we can to get closure and delay decisions as accurate as possible. Therefore, when we have one of those days, I want you to know in advance how APS will notify the school community in a timely manner so that you can plan accordingly.

Before severe weather is even predicted, I analyze with our operations and human resources team as much as I can about the housing, living and travel patterns of our staff, especially the support staff who we depend on to pick up our students on school buses, safely get them across the street as crossing guards and to prepare meals at breakfast and lunch in food service, and do much more. Many of our staff live outside of the city, and it becomes important that we know how that would affect our operations during the day if they were not in attendance. Sometimes weather in another community can impact our school district by default. These are all small but important details that go into my decision-making.

So, when severe weather is predicted for our area, the next step begins where we prepare immediately by monitoring the weather and holding conversations throughout the day and, if necessary, throughout the night and early morning hours with Atlanta Fulton County Emergency Management, Georgia Emergency Management, and the National Weather Service to help us make the best decisions for our students’ safety.

We then launch our severe Core Weather Team, which includes representatives from APS Operations, Transportation, Safety & Security, Facilities Services, Communications, Curriculum and Instruction, Nutrition and Information Technology departments. We enter into a live conference call to assess the weather information we are receiving as well emergency plans driven by the city of Atlanta’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office, Fulton County Emergency Management, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and others.  In these conference calls, we rely heavily on information provided by the National Weather Service and local meteorologists to provide the best and most reliable information. The meteorologists often want to wait as late as possible, when better data allows for more accurate forecasts and precise solutions. Sometimes, this wait can conflict with the district’s need to notify families early as possible.

Once we make a decision about school operations during bad weather, we will begin notifying parents and caregivers as soon as possible.

Here is a sample of key decision times mapped out throughout the day so you can understand where key decision points will be made.

Should we need to close our schools early due to inclement weather forecasted for the same day after school has already started, the Core Weather Team will convene as early in the school day as possible, likely around 9:30 a.m. to make a recommendation. You would, in this case, begin receiving notice of our decision by 10:30 a.m. that day from the district’s communications channels, including the local news media. If inclement weather is expected the next day, our team will begin the conversations and close monitoring on whether to delay or close schools.

We will aim to give you as much lead notice so you can put plans in place for your children should we have to cancel classes or afternoon activities early or if schools have to close for a full day or more. We will communicate our decisions in time for local newscasts (4a.m., noon, 4p.m., 5p.m. 6p.m. 10p.m. or 11p.m.). However, you don’t have to wait for news broadcasts. We will communicate with families via robo calls, texts and emails, the district website, social media, and local news outlets when there is a change in our normal school routine. Please note too, we will not contact you if we are not changing our school schedule.

I will remain in constant contact with principals and assistant principals as the district makes decisions about school closings and delays, and again, we will contact families beginning at 5:00 a.m. on that day, if the district needs to delay or cancel school.  I have reviewed the district’s lessons learned from Winter Storm Leon which will help us address issues faced by students and staff last winter.  As I speak with district leaders, I continue to determine what worked well during previous bouts of inclement weather, what did not and changes needed to move forward.

I encourage you to log in to the campus portal for parents, update your preferences for emergency notifications, which include robo-calls, text messages and e-mails at http://www.atlantapublicschools.us/CPP.

We understand our school community’s desire for timely information, and we do our very best to balance this desire with the need for coordinated community-wide emergency planning in these situations.

In the end, the superintendent does make the final call as to whether schools close for inclement weather. However, it is important that the district coordinates with outside agencies so that these decisions are not made in a vacuum.

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