By Dylan Roche
When Winter Storm Gia swept through the area from the evening of Saturday, January 12, and throughout the day of Sunday, January 13, nearly doubling the expected 3 inches in the forecast, parents took to social media with variations of the same plea to Anne Arundel County Public Schools: “Make the call, Bob,” a lighthearted but direct request to Bob Mosier, the chief communications officer who makes the announcement of any weather-related closures. In this instance, AACPS was able to announce that Monday would be a snow day by 5:30pm the night before. In other instances, it isn’t so easy.
“We are going to make the best decision we can for the system as a whole – both students and staff – with the information we have at the time we have to make a decision,” Mosier explained. “Given the choice, we would like to inform everyone the day or evening before. It’s just not always possible.”
Parents again awaited some sort of word about school closing on Friday, February 1, when an unanticipated amount of snow swept through the area, beginning at 8:00am. “There’s no more problematic instance with regard to weather than a storm that begins during the day,” Mosier said. “It hasn’t started when students leave for school, and it has started before they go home.”
Based on the forecast, AACPS put out a message the night before for parents and students to prepare for an on-time start to the school day. AACPS revisited the decision the following morning and decided to follow through with the plan based on the timing and predicted accumulation. Snow was supposed to start around 8:00am, accumulate no more than a dusting, maybe an inch at most, and be gone by 2:00pm. That meant the snow would just be starting as middle and elementary schoolers arrived at school, and would be gone and cleaned up by the time high schools dismissed at 2:17.
“We were talking throughout the morning, and it was about 10:15 that we decided we were going to pull the plug and get the kids out of school,” Mosier said.
In instances such as the one AACPS saw on January 12-13, Mosier said, it’s easier to make a decision the night before because personnel are actually able to assess the conditions at that time. In other circumstances, such as February 1, when snow is forecast to begin during the morning commute, the decision requires collaboration on behalf of many departments looking at a range of components.
In those cases, the process begins around 3:00am, when AACPS personnel go out to assess the conditions of the roads. If snow has not yet started to fall or has only recently started, personnel will gauge the temperature of the pavement to see whether snow or ice will stick and accumulate. By 4:00am, other personnel are treating school lots and sidewalks with sand and salt. If snow has already accumulated, an effort begins to clear it.
Meanwhile, AACPS communicates with the county’s Department of Public Works and Office of Emergency Management, as well as the State Highway Administration, to gather facts about the weather-related road conditions.
All that information is collected and provided to Superintendent Dr. George Arlotto sometime between 4:30am and 4:45am so that a decision can be made by 5:00am. AACPS alerts the media and posts an announcement to its website, as well as to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Mosier emphasized that AACPS always makes the announcement as soon as possible. “That happens as soon as the decision has been made,” he said. “We tell parents, staff and public that we don’t hold off. I’d like to sleep in too. I’d much rather make the call the night before and not get up at 3 in the morning. But the nature of storms isn’t like that.”
The only delay is the automated phone call that goes out to all parents registered within the school systems. This call is made at 5:30am because many parents gave feedback that 5:00am was too early.
Parents should also remember that even though roads look safe outside their homes, the roads might be more dangerous only a 10- or 15-minute drive away. “One of the challenges we face is that we are a very diverse county in terms of weather,” Mosier said. “What happens in Harwood and what happens in Severna Park or Linthicum or Pasadena could be four different things. You cancel school, and everyone in North County has no snow but people in South County have 3 inches. We have to make a countywide decision.”
When conditions are expected to improve, or when more time is needed to make a proper assessment, AACPS might announce a delay. In the case of Gia, AACPS delayed schools two hours on Tuesday, January 15, so that icy roads could warm up and officials could assess the conditions later. “We’re going to re-evaluate through those two hours, and buy ourselves more time to err on the side of caution,” Mosier said.
But the week of January 14 brought another tough choice for AACPS – snow was predicted to come through the area on the afternoon and in the evening of Thursday, January 17, so all after-school activities were cancelled. When Anne Arundel County saw only a few flurries that night, parents claimed after-school activities were “cancelled for nothing,” according to Mosier. “But you have to make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time,” he said. “We don’t just roll the dice.”
In the case of February 1, early dismissal meant the cancellation of afterschool activities, including Friday night sports games, even though most roads and parking lots were clear well before evening. Mosier explained that this is regular procedure. “Once we send students home for a weather-related cause, we’re not bringing them back,” he said.
Parents should bear in mind that if they disagree with the decision made by AACPS regarding school closures, they have the right to keep their children home, according to Administrative Regulation JB-RA, which states, “Students enrolled in public schools are considered lawfully absent from school for any portion of the day,” under circumstances including “hazardous weather conditions which would endanger the health or safety of the student when in transit to and from school.” Students who miss this school day will be allowed to make up any work that was missed.
Parents who do not receive automated notifications from AACPS should check to make sure their correct phone number is registered with their children’s schools. To stay updated on the latest info as soon as it is released, follow AACPS on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or go to www.aacps.org.