PARKERSBURG - Snow days bring difficult decisions, and Wood County Schools officials say they are prepared to make those choices should bad weather descend on the Mid-Ohio Valley.
The school system breezed through a relatively warm winter during the 2011-12 school year, but weather forecasters are predicting such a trend will not hold this year.
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools, said officials are prepared.
"According to AccuWeather and the National Weather Service, they are predicting we will have a more active winter this year," she said.
The school system actively consults with weather agencies, Homeland Security in Charleston and neighboring school systems. Employees begin driving bus routes and checking road conditions before 4 a.m. on days when bad weather is anticipated, and any decision to close school will be made before 6 a.m.
Woodward said the school system does sometimes call for two-hour delays to give road salt a chance to melt off icy patches, but almost never calls for an early dismissal.
The West Virginia Department of Education posts the most up-to-date school closing information on its website http://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.
"We don't want to send kids back to empty homes," she said.
The school system also tries to avoid calling for a delay and then changing it to a closer during the delay.
"We know that makes it double hard on parents," she said.
Woodward said sometimes calling off school is simply playing the percentages.
"The main percentage is our students have to be 100 percent safe, and if we get them to school we need to be able to get them home safe," she said.
That means sometimes anticipating what the weather might do during the school day. If there is a significant chance of an early-afternoon snow storm, officials may cancel school while the sky is still clear.
Either way, Woodward said parents and community members are likely to voice displeasure with a decision.
"It's one of the hardest parts of my job, to make that call to have or cancel school," she said. "Someone is going to be unhappy."
Woodward said if school is in session and a parent believes conditions would make it dangerous to send their child to school, they can choose to keep them home.
"They have the right as a parent to say 'I don't think it is safe to send my child today.' That is considered an excused absence," she said. "There are times, because of the location of their home and the distance they have to travel, they have to weigh their best judgment as a parent."
Woodward said with the size of the county and its many rural routes, it is not uncommon for one area to see snow and ice while another does not.
"Sometimes people look at us and say 'It's not snowing right now,'" she said. "Well, not where you are."
Richard Lance, transportation director for the school system, said bus drivers run 96 routes a day which take them throughout the county. Of the district's more than 13,000 students, more than 11,000 are eligible for transportation, meaning they live in an area considered outside of walking distance to a school.