Snow and Schools in Fairfax County

The communication and snow removal system continues to evolve to keep all the boxes checked.

The freak storm of Jan. 3 took many by surprise, but in the parking lot of Hayfield Secondary School in Fairfax County, snow operations were in motion just after the first flakes hit the ground. It was that way all over the county.

Typically when snow is forecasted, the wheels go in motion at the school system at 2 a.m. the night before so the school day can go on as soon as possible. There are 35 plows in the school system’s fleet, and 45 vendor plows to help out. Depending on the severity of the storm, there are “approximately 50 skid steers that assist as well,” said school spokesperson Jennifer Sellers. Independent contractors available on top of that, and Sellers said this storm dumped enough snow that the contractors were called out the next day.

In addition to the parking lots, there are surrounding streets that need clearing as well, which are normally under the county and state systems, so the school system works with Fairfax County Department of Transportation and Virginia Department of Transportation as well.

“We coordinate with them and assist each other,” Sellers added.

The school system has three-to-four salt sources located around Fairfax County, but depending on logistics of these sites, FCPS uses other salt sources at the county DOT sites.

 

Go or No Go

At one time, families would gather around the radio and television to hear the status of schools for the coming day, but it’s now online. The word goes out through social media and the FCPS website. The school system hashed out the snow day plan in October this year and posted it on the website. "The first five inclement weather days will be traditional inclement weather days. These five days may occur consecutively due to a single weather event or may take place as several individual events," it reads. With virtual learning procedures from the pandemic, there have been questions about whether snow days could be virtual days on social media, but this plan is in place for the time being.

In the past, any days the schools were closed beyond the given number of snow days were added on to the end of the year, or taken from the spring break days, but this may also be outdated. “Once these five days have been taken, FCPS will use the flexibility provided by the General Assembly to have unscheduled virtual learning days, wherever possible, to maintain continuity of learning,” the website says.

To access virtual learning, students must have taken home the computers the night before, and since this storm came on a Monday after the holiday break, it may not have happened. 

The school system has a system to allow students to pick up their devices if that is needed, and get food if needed, so a clear parking lot is vital in these cases. 

"Please be aware that the goal is to provide food to students wherever possible during inclement weather days," FCPS said. Weekly meal kit distribution will be done at the regular locations from 10:30 - 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6.

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