How Wake County Schools decides to close

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How schools decide whether to close down or not (WTVD)

A lot of work goes into deciding whether or not Wake County Schools should be opened due to winter weather.

It happens every year. We get a snow day in Wake County, and there's no snow on the ground. But why does it happen? Part of it has to do with just how big Wake County is. Whether you're in Wake Forest, or in Fuquay-Varina, Wake County covers a lot of ground -- 857 square miles, to be exact.

Now, inside all those square miles are 186,000 students just waiting to see if tomorrow will be a snow day. A lot of work goes into deciding if kids get to stay home from school.

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Wake County schools has an entire team looking at the latest models to see how they might be changing. And then that team meets every hour to hone in on their decision.

Lisa Luten is the communications director for the school district, and when it comes to deciding on a snow day, they're looking at a bunch of factors.

"We're looking to see if the buses can travel on the roads, if the parking lots are clear enough so that buses and staff members can park there," Luten told ABC11. "And if it's very severe weather, is there electricity in the school buildings? Is the heating and air-conditioning working? Is the water running.?"

And that's for each and every school, all 187 of them.

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Heather Waliga takes a look at how Wake County Public School System determines snow plans.

One of the things that's unique about our community is that the students travel to schools that aren't necessarily located in the town they live in. Plus, the staff members, like teachers, coming from Raleigh or cafeteria workers coming from Wake Forest or transportation workers coming from Garner or maybe the sanitation staff comes from the southwestern part of the county -- all have to be there. The way has got to be clear for all of them to make it in.

As warm temps return, wide-open spaces quickly see the sun melt away the winter white. But those nice Carolina pines shade a lot of areas, including critical neighborhood roads.

"Our buses don't spend a lot of time on the main roadways. They really spend most of their time inside, on the neighborhood roadways," said Luten. "Those are the roads that are more likely to be shaded by our beautiful pine trees and less likely to be plowed by the D.O.T."

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This happened last year. Southern Wake County bathed in sunshine, while the northern half was still shaded, with icy roads. And the result? Everybody got a snow day.

When it comes to closing schools, though, the final decision always depends on student safety.

"And, so, when we're looking at closing the district or even closing individual schools, what we have to remember is -- can all of our schools open up? And can we fully staff those schools so that the children that are at the schools can be safe and learn," explained Luten.

So, the next time those winter skies start to turn dark, and snow starts to fly in Southern Wake County... or in Northern Wake County, just know that those decisions are being made that not only affect your city but have to take in the account of all the cities in Wake County.
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