Schools Deciding on Friday Closure

A snowstorm that pounded the region forced more than 800 schools to close Thursday. With more precipitation expected for the evening hours, parents are left wondering if their kids will be home again Friday.

Shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that all Archdiocesan high schools and Catholic elementary schools in the city will be closed Friday.

Less than 30 minutes later, the School District of Philadelphia followed suit, closing public schools in the city Friday.

"That is a decision we always make in partnership with the City of Philadelphia," said Fernando Gallard, school district spokesman.

Together school and city officials evaluated conditions of area roads and the school facilities before announcing the closing.

"If they don't feel confident the roads can be ready, or confident that we can have our buildings and sidewalks ready," Gallard said, "We'll close."

He added that the availability of SEPTA services are also considered since many students use public transit to travel to school.

Regardless of the latest closures, Gallard says it is always difficult to make the call because so much is unpredictable.

"It really is a crapshoot," Gallard said.

And suburban schools are dealing with the same issues.

"Can our municipalities get our roads clear? Can our building crews clear our school properties?" asked Christine Liberaski, spokeswoman for the North Penn School District. "Will it be snowing when we are bringing the children in? Or snowing when they are going home?"

The superintendent of the North Penn School District, Curtis Dietrich, Ph.D., may confer with other superintendents in the area before he makes a decision, she said.

"There are several schools that feed into the North Montco Technical Career Center," Liberaski said, "So those superintendents often have a conference call and make a decision together."

The North Penn School District, which has nearly 13,000 students in 18 schools across Montgomery County, recognizes the community wants to know as soon as possible, but staying on schedule is a priority.

With Friday's closure, the School District of Philadelphia has five days to make up. Gallard says the district has yet to decide if they will take away part of spring break, tack the days on to the end of the school year or make days set aside for professional development as school days.

He says a waiver is also a possibility. "The Pennsylvania Department of Education would provide a waiver for school districts throughout the Commonwealth that have several snow days so that they can actually use total hours instead of total days," Gallard said.

For instance, high school students are required to attend 990 hours of school, he said.

If there was a waiver, the district would tally up the total number of hours of school and make up the difference, Gallard said.

For North Penn, a cancellation Friday could potentially shorten spring break, which has already been sliced by a day because of other weather-related off days.

"Originally Friday and Monday were supposed to be days off for our students," Liberaski said. "But we added those back into our calendar as well."

With a wall of snow hitting the Delaware Valley Thursday night, it is too soon to tell if North Penn students will be hitting the books Friday. But officials have their preference.

Liberaski says, "We will hopefully be in school."

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