The forecast was similar for many parts of the Augusta area, but the reaction by schools wasn’t.
When the National Weather Service on Monday reported a chance of sleet and snow over the following two days, Richmond County was the first to pre-emptively cancel classes for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Columbia County officials played it by ear, announcing Tuesday morning that they would release early that day and cancel school Wednesday. Georgia Regents University waited until 4:31 a.m. Tuesday to announce by e-mail that classes would be canceled that day.
The final call for closing K-12 schools is up to the judgment of the superintendent, but officials consider some of the same factors: road conditions, the temperatures in which students will be outside waiting at bus stops, whether buses can function properly, precipitation levels and other variables.
Richmond County Superintendent Frank Roberson said he spoke with local meteorologists and emergency preparedness officials before canceling two days of school. He said the prediction of ice on the roads was the biggest factor in the decision. The dangerous conditions jeopardize buses shuttling students and the parents taking their children to school, he said.
“The overriding factor always is to not put children and staff in harm’s way,” Roberson said.
He said that delaying start times or releasing early can sometimes be more difficult for working parents than canceling school altogether and that families need as much advance notice as possible.
“Pulling them away at odd times creates a hardship and makes it almost impossible to arrange for child care,” the superintendent said. “We wanted to give parents advance notice so they can make proper arrangements.”
Columbia County Superintendent Sandra Carraway said that until Tuesday morning, the weather looked bad but not to the point that school couldn’t be held.
She said school officials have to look at how weather will affect specific schools because conditions can vary just over county lines.
Although safety is paramount, Carraway said canceling school is a last resort and officials waited to pull the plug so they could monitor the weather changes as closely as possible.
“We don’t often have inclement weather; we often have threats of it,” she said. “It may be that tomorrow morning we wake up and it’s all fine, and that will be unfortunate because we’d never want to miss the opportunity to have a day of school. But on the other hand, we may wake up with 4 to 5 inches of snow.”
Jasper Cooke, the director of the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response at Georgia Regents University, said officials had hoped to avoid the academic repercussions of a snow day.
After three weather services predicted snow for the area about noon Tuesday, Cooke said the decision was made in a 4 a.m. conference call with university leadership to cancel classes.
The weather forecast changed after that call, however, much to the frustration of school officials.
“Even since we made the decision at 4 o’clock this morning, the storm has tracked farther north so the snow we should have gotten an hour ago is hammering Atlanta,” Cooke said about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
With no decision about Wednesday’s classes as of late Tuesday, Cooke said, there could be another last-minute decision.
“It can change quickly,” he said.