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Communication key in making school weather calls

With the winter weather the county experienced on Tuesday and Thursday, school officials have had to make decisions about school closings and delays three separate times this week.
Some might think a decision like this would be easy to make, but school officials said it is oftentimes difficult to make decisions based on something as fickle as Alabama weather.
Russellville City Schools Superintendent Rex Mayfield said anytime inclement weather is predicted, whether it is severe weather or winter weather, school officials have several measures they take to ensure they are making the best decision concerning the students and faculty.
“Communication is really the key when it comes to making decisions like these,” Mayfield said.
“Myself and Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams try to stay in contact because we usually make the same decision if we can, even though that isn’t always possible.”
Mayfield said in Thursday’s situation, Russellville schools dismissed at 1 p.m. due to the snow, but in parts of Franklin County, especially in Phil Campbell and Tharptown, more snow had accumulated on the ground and roadways than it had in the city and it wouldn’t have been safe for county buses to drive in those conditions.
“While we are in communication with each other, Gary and I also keep in contact with Roy Gober with Franklin County EMA,” Mayfield said.
“If they have a weather briefing, we both will usually attend or Mr. Gober will makes us aware of the situation and what me can possibly expect from the weather, so a good bit of our information comes from the EMA.”
Mayfield said he also usually keeps in contact with other superintendents in other areas to see what their schools are doing as well.
“We stay in touch with superintendents in the Shoals area, and we all try our best to keep a watch on the local news stations and weather channels to see what we can expect.”
Mayfield said in the case of winter weather like the area saw this week, school officials also check road conditions personally to make sure a delay or a dismissal will be in the students’, parents’ and faculty’s best interests.
“Most of the time Gary, myself, and other officials will drive around and see what the roads look like, even though we obviously can’t travel down every road in the city or the county,” Mayfield said.
“We just want to make the best decision possible with the information that we’ve been given.”
Mayfield said that decisions, however, is usually based on a lot of guesswork.
“No one can completely predict the weather 100 percent of the time,” he said.
“In the case of Thursday afternoon, the weather that was in Tupelo that looked like it was heading our way looked like something we should probably dismiss school for, but when we had the kids loaded on the buses, the sun ended up coming out.
“Sometimes the decisions we make may seem silly at the time, but we will always err on the side of caution and do what we think will be in the best interest of the students, because that’s our number one priority – to keep them safe.”
Both the Russellville City and Franklin County school systems have automated alert systems that can let parents or guardians know about any emergency situations or any changes in the school schedule.
Mayfield and Williams said it’s important for anyone with a child in either school system to make sure their contact information is up-to-date so they can stay informed when situations like the ones this week arise.