PARKERSBURG - Education officials are looking ahead to what could be a difficult winter.
The West Virginia Department of Education Tuesday reminded parents they can keep track of school closings through the state's website and with online and mobile notification services.
The WVDE posts the most up-to-date information on its website wvde.state.wv.us/closings/. Cancellations and announcements also can be received through email and text alerts, via RSS, or by following @WVSnowDay on Twitter.
"The WVDE now utilizes multiple tools to keep parents informed and ultimately assure student safety," said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. "During the winter months, inclement weather can result in unexpected changes in school operations and schedules. It is again that time of year to prepare for possible school closings, delays, and early dismissals."
To sign up for mobile text alerts, click on the School Closing button on the department's main website. Anyone with mobile service can sign up for text alerts by providing their cellphone number as well as their cell service carrier and following the instructions.
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services, said mid-October marks the start of winter preparations for Wood County Schools.
In 2010, the school system lost more than two weeks of instruction time due to snow and ice and many more school days began with a two-hour delay due to icy road conditions. Last year was a particularly mild winter with no lost instructional days, but Woodward said early indications are against such a repeat this year.
"According to AccuWeather and the National Weather Service, they are predicting we will have a more active winter this year," she said.
Woodward said those familiar with Wood County Schools bad weather policies and procedures will find no new surprises this winter.
"There has been no change. We still use the same procedures," she said. "As always, we will put the safety of the children first."
Woodward said officials monitor weather reports and predictions, hold morning conference calls with state Homeland Security and other area school systems and have employees out driving bus routes in the early morning hours.
Often decisions must be based on possible turns in the weather, such as a clear morning but predictions of afternoon snows or ice which could make returning students home dangerous. Conditions also can vary inside of Wood County.
"It might seem OK at one end of the county, but we are a county system and we have to make county decisions," she said. "We also have buses running students during the day to Caperton and the vo-tech center and other places."
In cases of inclement weather, Woodward said officials try to announce school closures before 5 a.m. to give traveling families and staff a chance to change plans. Sometimes the school system will call for a 2-hour delay to give crews a chance to clear roads or for temperatures to warm up, making salt on the roads more effective.
Local school closings and delays are announced through Suddenlink Channel 15 and area media, as well as on the state Department of Education's website.
Woodward said this week she began updating emergency contact numbers in anticipation on inclement weather and officials will be working with the West Virginia Department of Transportation in receiving salt and cinder shipments to treat school parking lots and driveways.