Winter Weather Preparation Underway at Washoe Schools

 

Washoe county school district transportation officials test tire chains on one of the district's buses.
A WCSD transportation worker tests tire chains on one of the district’s buses. Photo: Carla O’Day

Preparation for winter weather is underway at the Washoe County School District, which on Monday reminded students, families, and the community about transportation and safety procedures.

“Student and staff safety is our highest priority, not only during winter weather events, but all year round,” said Rick Martin, district transportation director. “We do our best during any inclement weather event to consider all of the factors—road conditions, continued snowfall, flooding, and conditions in our school buildings—when we make these decisions, because we want to do what’s best for our students and staff members.”

During snowy weather, district transportation officials begin driving on local roads throughout the county at 3 a.m. checking for hazardous conditions and determining whether it is safe for school buses to travel.

WCSD Buses
Photo: Carla O’Day

About one-third of students countywide get to and from school by bus. The district has 307 drivers and 352 buses in its fleet that spans five regions. Each bus has a GPS tracker and is equipped with tire chains.

Decisions to cancel school days or delay school starting times aren’t taken lightly, Martin said.

“It’s frustrating for parents, but we need to err on the side of caution,” Martin said.

Last school year had four cancelled days—two for snow and two for flooding—and three other days were delayed by two hours, Martin said. On average, the district experiences two weather-related cancellations and two 2-hour delayed starts per school year.

Last winter was the wettest in several years, which means the soil is holding more moisture than average and area bodies of water are more full than usual, said Chris Smallcomb, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist.

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“Flooding impacts sooner in the season are possible,” Smallcomb said. “That’s going to be foremost in our minds.”

The district begins tracking storms 72 to 96 hours in advance and works with the National Weather Service, local municipalities, and other local entities when making weather-related decisions. It also tracks road closures and access to off-ramps, and evaluates whether buses can travel safely, Martin said.

Even though roads might be dry in one area, they might be snowy, icy, or unsafe in outlying areas, Martin said. If school will be in session while snowing, district grounds crews plow parking lots at individual sites.

Once a decision to cancel or delay a school day is made, the district:

  • Sends a recorded call through its Blackboard Connect system to the homes of all students and staff members
  • Notifies all local media outlets via email, phone call, and/or text so they may begin broadcasting or posting the information
  • Posts the relevant information on its web page at www.washoeschools.net, Twitter (@WCSDTweet) and the district Facebook page
  • Updates the Parent Hotline at 775-334-8373 with current information about the delay or closure
  • In Incline Village, parents of students can call 775-337-7509 for information about possible delays or closures

Bus drivers collect regular pay if there’s a snow day but aren’t paid extra if they must drive make up days mandated by the state, Martin said.

For general information about winter weather transportation policies and procedures, visit http://www.washoeschools.net/Page/527.

Carla O'Day
About Carla O'Day 487 Articles
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.