There are no set guidelines and the decision is not ultimately theirs to make. But before a day of school is ever canceled or has its start delayed due to weather, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, two Highland County school transportation supervisors said Tuesday.
It’s all done for one reason – the safety of students, bus drivers and school staff – Bradley George and Ron Ward both said.
“There’s not a hard line that says we go to school if it’s this cold or we don’t go if we get so much snow,” Ward, the bus supervisor at the Hillsboro City Schools, said. “We look at the temperate and that’s one consideration. If it’s 5 degrees and there’s no wind, that’s doable. But when it gets down to 5 degrees with 5 to 10 mph winds … it just depends. There’s no real cutoff.”
George, the transportation supervisor and safety director for the Greenfield Exempted Village Schools, said that while superintendent Joe Wills makes the final decision, several staff members hit the road, often in the middle of the night, to check on the conditions. George said that since he lives on SR 41, he checks the South Salem area, one mechanic checks roads around Greenfield, another checks around the Rainsboro area, and Wills checks roads in other areas.
“There can be a big difference from the lake area to the north part of our district,” George said.
Ward said that while it’s the road conditions that typically guide him and superintendent Tim Davis, who makes the final decision at Hillsboro, there are a lot of other factors taken into consideration.
Ward said he confers with the Ohio Department of Transportation, Highland County Engineer’s Office, township trustees who are out working on the roads, and forecasts. He said they look at the temperature, the weather’s impact on kids waiting at bus stops, the weather’s impact on buses, whether or not heat the school buildings are warm and functioning properly, and the condition of the student and staff parking lots.
“Every now and then we look at the forecasts and take a swing and miss, but we try to make the best decision possible, and I think most of the time we are pretty much on target,” Ward said.
George said that if Greenfield is going to go on a one- or two-hour delay, it tries to make that call the night before, if possible. And if school is going to be canceled, they try to make that call by 6:15 to 6:30 a.m. before the staff gets on the road. He also said two-hour delays are not always called because completely because of road conditions or extreme cold weather.
“The temperature may not improve in two hours and road conditions may not get much better, but it means everyone’s out in the daylight and that’s a lot safer for kids standing at bus stops or if we have a break down of some kind,” George said. “We’re always going to error on the side of safety. School buses are heavy, but it doesn’t take much to get them spinning or leaning.”
Ward said that if a bus breaks down when it’s really cold, the wind is blowing, “and the bus is not producing any heat, it can get really cold really quick, and it takes another bus a while to get out to the kids. That’s another thing we do keep in mind.”
Another factor, Ward said, is the impact of extreme cold on the buses. He said that if it gets down to 5 degrees or below it can cause challenges with the air brakes most school buses have.
He said that if Hillsboro is going to have a one- or two-hour delay, the school tries to make that call the night before, when possible, so parents can arrange for child care. After that, he hits the roads around 3:30 to 4 a.m. to see if a further decision needs to be made, then tries to help make that call by 5 a.m. if school needs to be canceled.
“It’s all about keeping kids safe, along with our bus drivers and the staff and students that have to drive to school,” Ward said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]