Weather-related cancellations could mean extended school year for Fairfax County -- Gazette.Net






Gleeful students who reveled in this week’s Hurricane-related school cancellations might want to put off their winter wishes for snow.

Hurricane Sandy, which came on shore Monday evening, claimed two of the three weather-related cancellation days built into Fairfax County Public Schools’ academic calendar. Historically, these days have been used primarily for late-January and February snow. Although these three days would not need to be made up by students, any cancellations more than the three would.

Scheduled make-up days for weather-related cancellations beyond the three days include Presidents’ Day on Feb. 18, April 15 (currently a student holiday), and added days to the end of the school year.

With that said, many Fairfax parents said the school system made the right choice in canceling classes.

“Yes, FCPS made the right call in canceling school. One large wind gust, which can never be predicted, could have toppled one school bus, which would be devastating,” said Lisa Sterns of Fairfax, whose children attend Willow Spring Elementary and Lanier Middle schools. She said her children spent their days off playing indoors — board games with friends, sleepovers, cooking muffins, and catching up on homework (if teachers are reading).

Parents also reported students spending time watching the news for the latest storm updates, filling out college applications or preparing for SAT entrance exams and sleeping in.

“Keeping everyone safe and off the roads was the right call,” Sterns said. “The best part of the cancellation is that both days were canceled at the same time. This made preparing my work schedule simple. My government bosses knew that I wasn’t coming into the office so they could prepare accordingly.”

Fairfax County Public Schools announced Monday and Tuesday cancellations Sunday.

“I absolutely think FCPS made the right decision canceling school Monday and Tuesday,” Fairfax High School mother Patty Ryan said. “The size and scope of Sandy along with the intensity and duration and other unknown factors made it impossible to predict what might happen. Thankfully, the FCPS area was spared most of the misery that other areas unfortunately endured. But there was no way to know ahead of time which roads would flood, where trees would fall, or exactly where the violent bursts of wind would land.”

School system spokesman John Torre said safety is the number one concern when the decision is made to cancel or keep with the schedule.

“As far as weather-related cancellations and storm damage, we only consider current conditions and safety when making weather related decisions so this event will not influence future decisions [on snow days],” he said.

On Wednesday, four Fairfax County Public Schools remained closed because of power outages — Langley High, Holmes Middle, Sleepy Hallow Elementary and Spring Hill Elementary schools. All other schools were open.

“We weren’t going to keep 192 schools closed because four schools remained without power,” Torre said. “Those four schools are charged with using a third weather day. Of course, they won’t have to make up that day unless there is a fourth ‘snow’ day used. The process used this week is the same process that is used for any weather-related event.”

On nights or days when bad weather is expected, school system staff works with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service to get the latest forecasts and road conditions before making the decision to cancel school. During winter-weather cancelations, school system administrators have said the decision to cancel school was made because of the safety of high school student drivers, who have less experience driving in rough conditions.

Parents agreed that safety matters more than risking tacking on a few days to the end of the school year.

“My kids — three girls, two in high school and one in sixth grade — were very excited to know that there would still be TV if the power went out,” said Fairfax High and Daniels Run Elementary schools mother Zinta Rodgers-Rickert, who added that she “over prepared” for the storm with a generator. “I think having school on Monday — given the forecast — would have been OK since it seems obvious Tuesday there wouldn’t be school. I’m hoping for a snowy winter; so I hope these days don’t come into play. But over the years the school system has done a great job of adjusting days as needed.”

Sterns agreed, saying, “If [the school year] needs to be extended a day or so, then so be it. However, I am not going to change my summer plans to accommodate one or two days. If camp starts on the first day of summer vacation, then we are going to stick with the camp schedule. Unless of course, the school year is extended for an entire week and end of the year exams are given during that time period. I would rather extend the school year than to put anyone at risk.”

More information on weather-related cancellations and make-up days can be found at