School Closure Decision Process
The video above and information below are to provide an explanation of the school closure decision process. For more information on Emergency Notifications, including how to sign up for notifications, please see the CCSD EMERGENCY NOTIFICATIONS page.
The determination of whether or not to close schools for inclement weather is a complex process dependent upon a number of factors, with the ultimate desired outcome of what is best for students and their safety. The final decision is made by the Superintendent of Schools, based upon detailed recommendations from staff who are working closely with public safety agencies, city and county governments and the county’s Emergency Management Agency in the days and hours leading up to a predicted weather event. This coordination starts 48-72 hours ahead of the anticipated arrival of bad weather. These are some of the factors taken into consideration when determining whether or not to close schools:
The Weather Forecast
As we are all aware, weather forecasting is an inexact science. Weather patterns change quickly; and frozen precipitation falling on neighboring states or counties can easily evaporate or turn to rain as a system moves across the state— and vice versa. Decisions are made more difficult when temperatures are just at or around freezing, and a degree or two in temperature change can make the difference between normal, wet conditions and slick, snowy/icy roads. Staff participate in weather conference calls and agency meetings with other departments to compile as much accurate information as possible in order to put together the best plan of response for the community. In some cases, the weather forecast is just not firm enough to make a decision on school closing the night prior, and staff must make further assessments throughout the night, delaying a recommendation until the very early morning.
Cherokee County is one of the largest counties in Georgia, covering more than 430 square miles with elevations rising to over 2,200 feet. Road conditions can be vastly different in various parts of the county; so it is not safe to assume that, because roads are good in one neighborhood or one geographic area, all the roads throughout the county are safe. CCSD school buses travel more than 20,000 miles daily running 1,500 routes, carrying 23,000 students in the morning and 26,000 in the afternoon. It is essential that these buses be able to travel safely with their precious cargo; so, how the weather is affecting road conditions is a priority concern. In addition, CCSD high schools have thousands of students who drive themselves to school, and road conditions should be safe for our most inexperienced drivers to get behind the wheel. As CCSD staff check roads in inclement weather, they are also sharing information on road conditions with public safety agencies who also have vehicles out checking roadways and responding to emergency calls. This shared information is factored into the decision-making process.
While extreme cold is rare in Georgia, it can and does occur. Dangerously cold temperatures, made worse by wind chill factors, are a serious threat to children waiting at bus stops or those who have to walk a distance to and from a bus stop. Very low temperatures can also affect the function of diesel-engine school buses, which are used to transport a majority of CCSD students. In addition, school buildings are not immune to the threat of frozen pipes, or heating malfunctions, especially in older facilities, despite diligent efforts to keep all buildings in peak condition to handle extreme cold.
School Closure: FAQ
Why can’t the decision to close school be made earlier/the night before?
Every weather event is different; and, unfortunately, Mother Nature does not factor anyone’s convenience into when a weather system will move across our county or produce a specific, predictable outcome. CCSD staff begin monitoring the weather at the first issuance of an alert from the Emergency Management Agency and participate in countywide meetings and communication throughout the event, not just the night prior. The ultimate concern is the safety of students, and sometimes the school closure determination must wait for the most accurate information.
Why not go ahead and close school whenever there is a prediction of snow, just to be safe?
Weather forecasts are often wrong. In Georgia, we get many predictions of snow that never produce a single snowflake. Closing school is taken seriously, as it disrupts the instructional process for students and teachers. In addition, some “snow days” have to be rescheduled later in the year, disrupting family plans for travel due to changes in school holidays and/or school-year extensions.
Why not close school as soon as other counties announce they are closed?
Every county is geographically different and has different transportation challenges. Also, a weather forecast may be more severe for some counties than for others, depending upon elevation and location. While staff do monitor the closure status of other school districts (we have employees who live in other counties whose travel may be affected), it is not a factor in our own closure decision process.
How will I find out if schools have closed?
CCSD always posts an announcement on the school district website (www.cherokeek12.net) as soon as the decision has been made to close. CCSD also uses social media such as Facebook and Twitter to release the information. Both the District and individual schools utilize mass e-mail notifications; and, many schools offer a texting service, as well. Check with your child’s school to participate in these notifications. Local and metro media outlets are also notified when closure occurs. Note: please be aware that there are also Cherokee County School Districts in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina— this frequently causes confusion with closure announcements.
What if bad weather occurs during the school day?
Inclement weather response plans are in place to dismiss and transport students during the school day if such weather occurs after the school day has begun. Each student should have an Emergency Notification form on file with the school designating how the child will be transported in the event of emergency or early dismissal.