With another high country winter well on its way, Watauga County Schools would like to remind families how we make and communicate decisions about the operation of school during inclement weather.
Watauga County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said during severe weather, he considers every possibility to keep school open and on a regular schedule, but certain conditions often force delays and cancellations.
“I don’t take the decision to delay or cancel school lightly,” Elliott said. “We know changes in the school schedule have a huge effect on our families, so I want to be sure we do the best-possible job to communicate those changes when they are necessary.”
When bad weather begins overnight, the process for making decisions about the operation of school kicks off at 3 a.m. when Elliott and Transportation Director Jeff Lyons begin the process of gathering information about road conditions and the most current weather forecast.
By 3:30 a.m., a road check team consisting of Elliott, Lyons, and other staff members begins driving assigned routes to check road conditions throughout Watauga County. Lyons and Elliott both routinely participate in a morning live conference call with National Weather Service meteorologists in Blacksburg, VA at 4:30 a.m.
The final decision about school schedules and bus routes is based on information gathered from the road check team, NCDOT, local law enforcement and the latest weather forecasts.
That decision is normally made before the first school bus departs at 5:25 a.m. and is announced in several ways: a statement at the top of all pages of school websites at www.wataugaschools.org; via local media outlets; by automated phone messages, email, and text messages to parents; via Twitter at @WataugaSchools; and through a recorded snow line message at (828) 264-0200.
If you have questions about the limited bus routes for your school, you can get more information at wataugaschools.org/limitedroutes, or by contacting the WCS Transportation Department at (828) 264-6391.
Elliott said there are times when it is difficult to determine if schools can remain open. He said the decision to cancel school must take into account conditions across the entire county, which often vary widely.
“Every day, we have buses and student drivers that travel roads ranging anywhere from 1,900 to 5,500 feet in elevation. Just by nature of how varied our county’s landscape is, there will be days when families living in areas with clear roads will wonder why schools are closed. But because we operate as a unified school system, we have to make a decision based on what is safe for families across the entire county as well as for our student drivers at the high school and over 700 employees.”
When road conditions are acceptable on heavily-traveled routes, but secondary roads are still covered, Watauga County Schools will employ limited bus routes. The usual limited route option is called Limited Routes A. A more restrictive limited route option, consisting mostly of numbered U.S. and state highways, is called Limited Routes B. Details of both limited route options are available on each school website and printed copies are available on request from a school office.
When schools are closed for inclement weather, the missed days are made up at a later date.
Holding classes on Saturday to make up a missed day is an option after the very first snow day. However, Saturdays will only be used for makeup during a week in which schools have been closed at least one day. There will be no six day weeks.
The plan for making up missed days is available wataugaschools.org/calendar. A paper copy can be requested from any school office. In making vacation plans, families need to remember that spring break can be shortened or eliminated and that the school year may extend well into June if a severe winter results in frequent school closings.
Watauga County Schools are closed an average of approximately 15 days per year for snow and ice, with wide variation around that average. The number of days missed has ranged from a low of four days in 1990-91 to a peak of 39 days in 1977-78. The system missed 20 days for weather last school year.
Elliott said as winter weather approaches, it’s important that parents update their contact information with their school’s front office, as that information will be used to announce closing, delay and emergency information.