The refreeze

Shenandoah County school bus driver Ron Cromer plugs in an extension cord to power his engine block heater on this school bus outside Strasburg High School on Wednesday. Drivers were asked to come in and start their buses, which have been idle since last week, to prepare for the cold weather that is in the forecast for the next few days. Rich Cooley/Daily

The decision of whether or not to close school when weather conditions get bad isn’t an easy one.

Decisions are based on multiple factors and can come down to mere minutes, said Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for Frederick County Public Schools. And possible accumulation levels are only one part of the story.

Public schools in Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick and Clarke counties have been closed all week after a Monday storm threatened afternoon travel and resulted in 3 to 4 inches of snow around the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Asked on Wednesday if predicted sub-zero overnight temperatures might affect classes today, Edwards said no decisions had been made yet.

“We’ll wait and see what the weather brings,” he said. Closing schools, he added, “It’s really all about the safety of our students.”

The process begins with early morning consultations with the Virginia Department of Transportation, weather services and other area school divisions, said Chuck Bishop, superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools.

“We know in many cases it’s headed our way,” he said.

The goal is making the best decision possible, said Shenandoah County Superintendent Jeremy Raley.

“There’s no specific criteria,” Raley said. “There’s no hard and fast set standard.”

So they err on the side of caution, said Bishop, who along with Raley decided early morning Wednesday to upgrade a two-hour delay to a full-day closure.

“I can live with that decision,” Bishop said.

Asked how many days of school his students have missed so far, Bishop answered only half seriously.

“Too many,” he said. “We’ve missed nine. Today is our ninth day.”

With five days built into the school calendar, his district is still on track for its scheduled June 4 release date, with potential makeup days scheduled through June 12, if necessary.

But so much missed school is especially concerning when considering how closely locked together these snow days have been.

February is waning, but students have had only two full weeks of school since the beginning of the year, he said.

Frederick also reported nine missed days, and Shenandoah reported seven. Attempts at reaching Warren County Public Schools on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Though Shenandoah schools have no built-in inclement weather days, Raley said no plans are being made to alter the district’s schedule. The calendar arranged for 1,080 total hours of instructional time, he said. So far they’ve used 42 hours for inclement weather, so he said the district still has 48 hours it can use before being in danger of not meeting the state mandated 990 instructional hours or 180 instructional days.

Frederick, however, exceeded the five days built into its schedule of 185 days, and at its School Board meeting Tuesday voted to extend four early dismissal days into full days and turn one teacher workday into a regular school day.

Affected days are Feb. 20, March 16, March 27, April 24 and June 5. An optional attendance teacher workday will be on March 21, a Saturday.

The changes allow the district to meet state requirements, which require schools to make up each of the first five days missed because of inclement weather, plus one day for every two days missed in excess of the first five, a district news release reported.

Wednesday’s snow day and others that might follow will come out of additional banked time the district accounted for in its new schedule, Frederick schools Superintendent David Sovine stated in the release.

At its Tuesday meeting, the School Board approved Frederick’s 2015-16 school calendar that runs from Aug. 17 to June 3. Winter break will be Dec. 21 to Jan. 1, and spring break March 25 to 29. Graduation ceremonies are scheduled for June 1 to 4, 2016, with the last rain date on June 5.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com