Weather-related school closing information: A parent’s guide

cold stock

Every year we think it’s wise to review our school closing procedures, especially as it relates to cold weather (we get the most questions about temperature-related closings, because they can be a tad confusing). Generally speaking, the majority of our school closings are caused by hazardous road conditions, mainly on our rural roads. That said, in recent years we’ve seen a spate of cold days that have resulted in cancellations.

Here’s a parent’s guide to our process:

  • Several district employees, including our directors of transportation and operations, travel our roads as early as 3 a.m. on mornings when weather could potentially cause a district-wide closing. They travel main roads as well as our rural roads (LCS is home to 225 miles of paved and unpaved roads). This means that at any given time, some roads will be passable as normal while others could be impassable. District officials must weigh not only the ability of our drivers to navigate the roads, but also be mindful that they are sharing the roads with other drivers in all types of vehicles.
  • In the early morning hours of an adverse weather day, district officials are in contact with local police departments and the Lapeer County Road Commission. At this time, we can gain a better understanding of the current road conditions as well as up-to-date information on plow schedules. Very often, our superintendent also shares information with school officials from neighboring districts.
  • Because some of our buses leave the garage as early as 5:30 a.m., we do our best to make the call as early as possible. In some cases, like one we had last month, rapidly-changing weather conditions can cause a cancellation after our buses are on the road. In these rare cases, we get firsthand information from our drivers that road conditions are deteriorating. Being a bus driver can be difficult work, even on the best of days. Our drivers shoulder a tremendous responsibility and for that we are grateful.
  • At times it is necessary to release students early as weather conditions dictate (this occurred last month). In these cases, generally we will release our secondary students first in order to ensure that older siblings are home when the younger ones arrive.
  • School districts can, and often do, close as a result of cold temperatures. We’ve experienced this numerous times in the last few years (remember the Polar Vortex?) There is, however, no state law that mandates school districts close at a given temperature.
  • Some school districts have a wind chill threshold that determines if schools will be closed. For some it’s minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit of wind chill, for others it’s minus 20 degrees. Some districts use an actual temperature threshold, as opposed to a wind chill. Other districts do not have a set policy for cold weather closures, and simply play it by ear. Lapeer Community Schools, like many of our neighbors, utilizes the National Weather Service Windchill Chart that dictates school closures when a combination of temperature and wind speed create conditions that can cause frostbite to exposed skin within 30 minutes. Given that standard, there is a variance of actual temperatures that can cause a closure. As an example, if the actual temperature were 5 degrees above zero with wind speeds at 40 miles per hour, schools would close (the wind chill would be minus 22 degrees). However, if the actual temperature were much colder, let’s say minus 15 degrees, schools would be open if there was just a trace of wind (i.e. less than 3 mph). In that case, the wind chill and the actual temperature would be the same — minus 15 degrees. (Point of clarification: the “feels like” or “real feel” temperature that some weather apps use is different from the old standard of wind chill.)
  • In order to have a uniform standard of temperature and wind speed, the District will utilize readings from one weather station: The Dupont-Lapeer Airport. We get inundated with screenshots with temperature readings and wind chill from all over the county on cold days, so it’s best we use one reading consistently.
  • There is not a similar chart with respect to snowfall, as closures precipitated by snow accumulation are based solely on the condition of our roads – including our rural roads. With higher wind speeds leading to drifting, sometimes the snow amounts are not indicative of the actual condition of the roads.
  • As normal, school closing information can be found on LapeerSchools.org, our social media outlets (Twitter and Facebook), via local media stations including ABC 12, WEYI, the Detroit stations (TV and radio) and via our School Messenger (phone, e-mail and text) system. Our phone system is a little slower than social media, so people who check those sites will be the first to know.
  • When school is closed, we will publish information online and via school messenger about the status of evening activities. This information is generally disseminated before noon or 1 p.m. at the latest. If schools are closed, any events in the District sponsored by the City of Lapeer Parks & Recreation are cancelled. The status of all other events determined on a case-by-case basis, including consultation with officials from other school districts regarding athletic events. Athletic practices are always non-mandatory on cancelled school days.

Cancelling school is not a decision we, or officials from any school district, take lightly. We cannot predict the future and, as you all know, weather can change in an instant. We live in Michigan, and even in the best of winters there will be many days that require extra attention on the roads and a few extra layers on our backs. That said, student safety will always be our primary concern when making decisions regarding school cancellations.

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