We all remember, when we were young, wishing for snow days. Watching out the window at night, seeing the snow fall and hoping it meant we could sleep in and play in snow instead of going to school.
Those were magical days, and it never really occurred to us how the decision was made, we were just happy it was made.
The fact is, it takes a lot to determine if there will be a snow day, three-hour delay or early-out during the winter.
Pocahontas County Schools Superintendent Lynne Bostic and Director of Transportation Duane Gibson make a lot of phone calls and get updates from the weather service before they “make the call.”
“The national weather briefings will start,” Bostic said. “The forecasters are out of Charleston, Pittsburgh, Blacksburg. They show us what they are envisioning for our areas. We’ll have a briefing at 8 p.m. and sometimes, they’ll even say we’re going to do another one in the early morning hours if they think anything is going to change.”
What makes the decision difficult is the differences in elevation in the county, leading to some areas getting more snow than others.
“Our county is so diverse,” Gibson said. “I live five miles from the high school and the last snow day we had last year, I had no snow at home but there was five inches at the high school. Just elevation difference.”
With that said, however, Bostic and Gibson said that they never consider closing some schools due to weather and having others attend since the weather isn’t bad in that area. Here, it’s all or nothing.
Of course, road conditions are the main factor and Bostic and Gibson have a list of people they contact to check on the road conditions before they call off school or choose a delay.
Bostic stays in contact with superintendents in surrounding counties and Gibson has a list of school employees and residents who are usually early risers and can give a report. They both stay in contact with the Division of Highways to know what the plowing situation is on the roads.
“I’m getting up at 4:30 a.m. or so and try to call the state road,” Gibson said. “I call a few people in the community that are up early and Facebook a couple of them or text them. I’m starting to build my group.”
When it is determined to have a three-hour delay or snow day, a call is sent out to employees and parents who are on the school systems list. The information is also sent to TV and radio stations and posted on Facebook to ensure the information is available to the entire county.
There are times when there is inclement weather, but not enough to call off school and in those cases, there are options, as well. There are snow routes for the buses, which sees them only using the main roads to pick up students. If parents cannot get their kids to a location to be picked up, they can stay home and get an excused absence.
Also, Bostic added, that if a parent or guardian still feels it is unsafe for their child to go to school on a wintery day, they may keep the student home and get an excused absence.
Safety is the number one priority.
On those days when there is snow, but there is school, Gibson said he contacts his bus drivers with routes on rough roads and tells them to take their time and get to school safely.
As Gibson explained, the school buses travel on 470 miles of paved road and 149 miles of gravel roads every day. They cover a lot of territory and traverse some interesting twists and turns.
While they know the system isn’t always going to be perfect and mistakes will be made, Bostic and Gibson said they use all the information they can to determine delays and days off.
“It’s a hard call,” Bostic said. “Neither one of us is a meteorologist, but we take all of our resources and work together.”
“What you decide for the county is not going to be perfect all the way through the county,” Gibson said. “There’s going to be a bad road here and there.”
“Our drivers are conscientious,” Bostic added.
“We have good drivers,” Gibson agreed.
If you are not receiving the snow day calls and wish to be added to the list, visit the West Virginia Department of Education website to be added to the Pocahontas County Schools list.