Deciding Whether to Close School for Snow Isn't Easy

When a major snow storm hits, there’s only one question on the minds of teachers, parents, and school-aged children: will there be school tomorrow?

The answer to that question, as Lower Merion School District Director of Community Relations Doug Young explained, is almost never reached easily; and is almost always reached much later than most people would like.

“Certainly there a lot of folks out there who are planning their day based on the decision of the school district and we recognize that there’s some frustration when that decision isn’t made the night before. But it’s challenging. It’s often difficult to predict just what the weather will do,” Young said.

Officials have already begun assessing a number of factors to decide whether schools should close, including the accuracy and consistency of weather forecasts, road conditions and the ability of municipality crews to prepare area roads and highways for travel.

In Lower Merion, Young says to decision to close or have a delayed school opening will ultimately be determined by the district’s ability to get students to school safely.

“There are a lot of factors that come into play when making the decision and it’s not necessarily an easy decision every time. But at the end of the day, the most important factor in all of this—the factor that’s driving the decision making process—is student safety,” Young said.

“It ultimately comes down to whether our buses can get where they need to be, and whether our facilities can be open and safely provide for our students.”

Philadelphia School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district makes its decision based on the results of numerous meetings between the city’s Streets Department, the Office of Emergency Management, and the Office of the Mayor.

Despite attempts to make the decision as soon as possible, officials from both Lower Merion and Philadelphia School District say it’s unlikely that they’ll make a decision until 3 or 4 a.m.

By that time, most of the snowfall in the region will be coming to an end, but increasing winds and very cold temperatures, “the coldest air we’ve seen in a long time,” according to NBC10 Meteorologist Bill Henley, could make for a difficult commute on Friday morning.

According to Gallard, there is a slight possibility that a decision to close the Philadelphia public schools could be made around midnight.

“A decision could be made earlier if we have enough confidence in the information we’re gathering and if the severity of the storm is big enough that we know we’re not gonna be able to prepare for school overnight,” he said.

“Things could change fairly quickly. If all of the sudden, the storm looks extremely problematic at midnight, you never know, we might make the call then. But it’s really hour-by-hour in regards to what the storm shows us.”

You can find a list of all school closings and delays in our NBC10 School Closing Alert section.

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