School or snow day? How Montgomery Co. schools make the call

Thermometer on snow shows low temperatures under zero. Low temperatures in degrees Celsius and fahrenheit. Cold winter weather twenty under zero.Thermometer on snow shows low temperatures under zero. Low temperatures in degrees Celsius and fahrenheit. Cold winter weather twenty under zero.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/MarianVejcik)
WASHINGTON — When predictions of snow pop up, every parent wonders: Will the kids have school in the morning or not?

School systems say they’re aware of the need for families to plan, but student safety is their first priority.

The Montgomery County school system put together a video to explain how they begin the decision-making process. In the video, the school system’s Director of Transportation Todd Watkins explains that the decision-making begins as early as 3 a.m., with transportation teams checking roads across the county. They report road conditions back to the school system’s transportation department.

By 4:15 a.m., a call to the chief operating officer is made, and a recommendation is sent along to the superintendent of schools, Dr. Jack Smith.

By 5 a.m., they make an official decision, and they share it through social media, local media outlets and by phone.

Among the factors taken into account, according to the Office of Public Information, is the geography of the county, where the northern half can see freezing conditions and snow, while the southern end of the county may get a dusting or nothing at all.

But officials say they also consider the commutes their teachers and school staff make. A number of teachers live not just outside the county but outside of Maryland, with some commuting from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, for example.

If weather conditions are likely to become more favorable during the morning, schools may opt for a two-hour delay. Conversely, if snow or inclement weather starts after school is in session, and the decision to have an early dismissal is made, announcements are made by 11 a.m.

The school system has had its share of criticism over how and when classes are canceled and when schools are closed, but officials say student safety remains their No. 1 concern.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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