School closing is snow easy decision

By Samantha Yeager and Laura Myers, Round Table Reporters

Its 8 p.m. Sunday night, the Middletown High School senior lazily stretches out to checks the FCPS website. No change. The snow and ice storm is supposed to start any minute now. 11 p.m. it starts to snow, no new news yet. Exhausted, the girl finally lays her head down, giving up on the idea of sleeping in later tomorrow. 5:15 a.m., still the FCPS website has not changed. As she starts the long process of straightening her wild mane, her mother slowly drags in at 5:45 a.m, telling her school has finally been cancelled. Angry and frustrated with her half tamed hair, the fuming senior tumbles back into bed, trying to catch up on a few essential hours of sleep.

As the snow and winter storms continue, Frederick County Public Schools is forced to close schools, creating controversy around the county.

The decision on whether to open or close schools is based on the safety of the students and staff, according to Michael Doerrer, director of communications, community engagement and marketing for FCPS.

Middletown High School junior, Samantha Ramsey, thinks that the process of closing schools is ready for improvement.  “Most of the time, people are already dressed for school when they close it,” she said. She thinks school should be closed earlier in the morning, or even the night before.

A great deal of work goes into making the decision. Contrary to what the average grumpy teenager may think, the decision is complex and many opinions go into the verdict.

“Ultimately, the superintendent makes the decision,” Doerrer said, but many other people can add their input and judgment, too.

Generally, the process starts with the transportation director and the transportation team. Although some students fret about schools being open when it snowed the night before, the transportation team goes out very early in the morning, as early as 4 a.m., to drive on the roads and test their safety.

The FCPS Director of Facilities is also involved by making conclusions about the conditions of school parking lots and sidewalks.

All information gathered from different directors and teams go straight back to the FCPS Superintendent, who makes the chief assessment on how safe the streets are.

As director of communications, Doerrer is in charge of getting the word out. There are many ways that he goes about telling the community. The news gets out through Facebook, Twitter, the FCPS website, and through FindOutFirst notifications.

Many times, FCPS does not give much credit to make the forecasters are saying about snow ahead of time. “Sometimes the models are very consistent and stable overtime,” said Doerrer, but, “there can be a lot of possible outcomes in the models.”

“Weather changes,” said Doerrer, referring to why FCPS often waits until the morning to make an announcement about a delay or school closing. It can be difficult to accurately predict exactly what the conditions will be when the buses have to run.

Relying on the predictions is a gamble. “Forecasters make are actually going to happen.” Depending on where someone is in the county, there could be “a foot of snow or an inch of snow,” according to Doerrer.

Even when many of the surrounding counties have cancelled schools, FCPS often waits because the environment in Frederick County can be very dissimilar from Washington County or Carroll County.  It all depends on what’s going on in Frederick County.

The decision to stay open or close schools not only affects students, but also the parents of students. Frequently parents drop off their children at school or day care and go to work.

Many parents need some notice if their schedule will be messed up, to make alternate plans.

FCPS “tries to get the information out as quickly as possible,” said Doerrer, but they often wait to make sure the decision will be the right one.

The process of cancelling school happens very quickly. For the convenience of students and staff, FCPS tries to make a decision as soon as they are confident in the weather.

However, MHS junior Logan Bramhall thinks that FCPS should cancel schools earlier than they do. Bramhall said, “They should decide by 8 p.m. the night before, and if needed, 5 a.m. the morning of.”

However, junior Kirsten Kron said, “Sometimes it works out really well because the roads have gotten better and easier to drive on” the morning after a storm.

With every winter weather storm, there are going to be complaints from the public.

Doerrer said that usually, regardless of what FCPS decides, somebody is going to be upset. “You’re not going to please everyone with the decision,” he said.