To Delay or Not Delay – That is the 5 am Question

On Monday, October 28 I went out to greet our buses in the back of our middle and high school. Whenever I do not have a scheduling conflict, I try to make it outside to say hello to students, give high fives, and say “Good morning” to staff. That morning, however, was very foggy. An unhappy young lady got off her bus and dripping in 12-year-old sarcasm said, “Thanks for the two-hour delay.” My daughter is never easy on her old man. 

If you remember, that morning became very foggy around 6:40 am. When I woke up around 4:30-4:45 am, the forecast was clear. There were no weather alerts and our transportation coordinator had not yet contacted me. When I left my home at 6:15 am, there was patchy fog, but nothing that would have caused a delay. Within thirty minutes that all changed. Heavy fog rolled in making the morning very challenging. It resulted in a few emails asking about our decision and one unhappy Schirg girl. 

My hope is to share what goes into our district’s decision making process to delay or cancel school. Before jumping in, there are a few disclaimers: 

  • First, student safety is paramount. We use a multitude of inputs to inform our decision and it is not an exact science, but ultimately student safety is the most important factor. 100% of our students either ride the bus, drive themselves, or get dropped off. Getting students to school and home safely is one of the most important things we do as a school district. 
  • Second, I want kids in school. In fact, I want to work in a school environment that students never want to miss. My dream is that students are so disappointed school is cancelled because they will miss the excitement from Mrs. Jones or Mr. Rebmann’s classes. That would be awesome!
  • Finally, we recognize in the lives of our students, staff, and parents these decisions have multiple consequences including childcare, travel arrangements, and work schedules. We strive to get it “right” as much as possible. 

Our process to delay or cancel school for weather typically begins with the forecast. We begin looking at the weather forecast about a week in advance and monitor daily. We use the national weather service, as well as, a variety of other applications and resources to help get a full picture of weather changes. An example of one of these resources is the national weather service. Check out some resources here: https://www.weather.gov/safety/winter

If we have predicted weather, our transportation coordinator and I wake up between 4:15-4:30 am to begin an assessment. This includes driving the roads. We both live in different parts of the district. Fairbanks Local School District is 133 square miles so weather conditions can vary dramatically depending on your location. We have specified routes that we drive. During this time, we are communicating with each other. 

In addition to communicating with each other, we are talking to neighboring school districts. Our transportation coordinator is speaking to her colleagues and I am communicating with surrounding superintendents. We are gauging their thinking, but ultimately we are going to make a decision that is best for Fairbanks Local Schools. 

Our hope is that we can reach a decision by 5:15 am – 5:30 am. This time gives families the ability to adjust and our first buses leave around 6:05 am – 6:10 am  If we delay, we continue to monitor conditions to see if a cancellation is needed. As one student recently said jokingly, “It always gets worse.” Using this approach, we attempt to make the best decision based on current conditions. Some days are easier than others to make a decision. This is not an exact science, but a process our team takes very seriously. 

To delay or not to delay is a big question, especially during the winter months. I hope we do not have many calamity days so we can continue to learn, connect, and grow together. However, if you do receive that 5:15 am call, you have an understanding of the thinking behind it. 

-Adham Schirg, Fairbanks Local Schools, Superintendent

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