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Posted February 27, 2015

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Safety Dictates School Delays, Cancellations

We're bound to have another storm this winter, so Dr. Winter explains in his monthly Journal column the process for deciding when to delay or cancel school.

A few weeks ago, officials shut down all of New York City, including its schools, as forecasters predicted one of the worst blizzards in the state’s history.

A severe storm never hit the city. In fact, one Saturday Night Live comedian joked that he’d seen bigger blizzards at Dairy Queen.

Oh, I felt for those officials.

Making decisions that affect the safety of others, especially students, can’t be taken lightly; get those decisions wrong and you risk inconveniencing families, businesses and daily routines.

Either way, we’ll hear about it. No matter what call we make when it comes to weather-related school delays or closures, we will get angry phone calls, emails, tweets, posts and media reports complaining that we were wrong.

So when Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day last week predicting six more weeks of winter, I thought this might be a good time to explain what goes into deciding whether to delay or cancel school.

Albuquerque Public Schools has one golden rule: safety first – for our students, our employees, and our families who have to get to and from school. We don’t want our buses trying to transport kids on treacherous roads, nor do we want moms, dads or – worse yet – teenagers driving in unsafe conditions.

When bad weather is predicted, we turn to our intrepid storm team to scout our routes. As early as 2:30 in the morning, APS Police and Student Transportation Services are on the road, starting in the parts of the district most heavily impacted by snow in the East Mountains and along I-40 to To’hajiilee. They’re checking for snow, ice, visibility. Bottom line, they’re checking for safety.

We also consult city, county and state road departments; local and state police; school bus companies; even snow watch volunteers who report conditions in their neighborhoods. A decision needs to be made by 5:30 in the morning before the first school buses head out to pick up kids. That’s a problem if the snow starts falling after that, as it did a few weeks ago.

Once a decision is made, we get the word out by posting to our website, Twitter and Facebook; contacting TV and radio stations; calling and emailing families through our parent notification system.

If a delay becomes a cancellation, we start that process all over again.

Inevitably, our decision – no matter what it is – will be met with cheers and jeers. APS stretches across 1,200 square miles from San Antonito to Chilili, the East Mountains to To’hajiilee, Corrales to Valencia County. Conditions within the school district can vary vastly during a storm. Blue skies at one school, a blizzard at another, clear roads in one part of town, sheets of ice a few miles down the road.

We have one weather make-up day built into the remainder of this year’s calendar on Feb. 17. If we need more, we’ll have to return to school after Memorial Day. I don’t see that happening but, as I pointed out, weather forecasting is pretty unpredictable.

If another storm moves in, count on us to make the best call we can, but also remember that the ultimate decision to send a child to school lies with the parent or guardian.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to spring.

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