Following a rough winter, Fairfax County schools will explore possible changes to how they handle snow days.
School schedules have been thrown for a loop this year, with 10 weather-related school closings and makeup days cutting into summer vacation. The School Board last Thursday directed FCPS administration to look into alternative approaches to future closings and makeup days.
School Board members said the school system needs to start looking at improvements to its procedures now, not wait for another harsh winter.
“No, we don’t have Snowmageddons every single year,” said School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock). “But should we wait until the next Snowmageddon? Why not start thinking about these issues now?”
Snowmageddon refers to the name given locally to the infamous blizzard of February 2010, which dumped 32 inches of snow at Dulles Airport, according to the National Weather Service.
Though no snowstorms this winter approached that total, as many days have been canceled this school year in Fairfax County as the year of Snowmageddon.
In 2009-10, schools lost 10 days to blizzards in December and February. This year, smaller snowstorms have pelted the county in December, January, February and March, leading to 2- and 3-day streaks of school closings each month. Throw in one closure in early January for frigid cold, and it all adds up to 10 missed days of class for county students.
To try to gain back some of that missed class time, several School Board members asked school administration to look into altering the current all-or-nothing approach to weather decisions.
School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) proposed splitting the county into two or three sub-districts for closings and delays as one possible solution.
“Is there any way that this could work?” Schultz asked. “I know it may not be practicable. But we have some inherent assumptions we all make, and so far it’s absent any data or any real staff discussions.”
McLaughlin offered another option focused on individual students. Students living on still snow-clogged streets would stay home, while those with clear roads would go to school.
“I realize that this is not a full-fledged idea yet,” McLaughlin said. “But my constituents have expressed to me a desire for our school system to look at more progressive ways to approach these problems.”
The School Board also called for ways to keep makeup days from spilling into summer vacation.
This year, the school system has added two days to the end of the year to help make up for the large number of closings, pushing the last day of school from Friday, June 20, to Tuesday, June 24. Extending the length of the school day and building more cushioning into the calendar from the start were both offered as ideas to consider.
According to Schultz, these are issues that the school system cannot wait to address.
“What happens if we’re back here next year and we’re facing the exact same situation?” Schultz said. “We need to start planning now.”