The White Plains Elementary School kindergarten teacher had to make quite a few of them this week. Record-setting cold in the area led school officials throughout Calhoun County to delay start times by two hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving administrators and teachers with a short schedule to work with as students returned to classes after the holiday break.
“We’re learning about winter weather this week, so it was appropriate,” said Reaves, on the lesson plan she had mapped out for her students this week. “Normally we would do some sort of art activity, but maybe we leave that out instead.”
Joe Dyar, superintendent of Calhoun County Schools, said four or five times each year officials need to make the call on delaying school, focusing on road conditions and making sure students are safe as they travel to school.
“In those situations we’d rather be over-cautious,” said Dyar, noting delays will affect not just school start times, but teachers’ lesson plans, meal preparations, bus pick-up schedules, and even after-school activities.
Although the decision to delay start times was primarily to keep students out of the cold, it might not have made much difference. At 7 a.m. Tuesday, around the time many schools start the day, the temperature in Anniston was 8 degrees. Two hours later, the temperature stood just a little warmer at at 12 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Because the delayed schedule was announced during the week before most students in the county were expected to return to classes, teachers caught a break in their planning. Pleasant Valley Elementary School Principal Teresa Johnson said the notice gave her more time to send emails and record messages for parents, not only reminding them of the delay, but that students waiting for buses should be dressed warmly to prepare for the freezing cold temperatures.
“We’re a rural school and not everyone has access to Internet,” Johnson said, explaining that the district uses a program that sends parents electronic alerts as well as voice messages.
For some teachers, the delay was an effective way to welcome students back after the holiday break. Shannon Finley, a language arts teacher at Alexandria Elementary School, said the shortened days were helpful in getting students back on track after several days off.
“It was a good transition,” Finley said. “I think right after the break it helps to just get everybody in and back into a routine.”
While delays can be unexpected and cause problems in scheduling, Pleasant Valley High School Principal Mark Proper said most schools already have a two-hour delay schedule they can use in case of emergency. It often means shortening certain classes, and in some cases, leaving lesson plans out for another day.
Some things, however, can’t be cut out of the routine. Dyar said that despite schools starting two hours later than normal, it was important students still got lunch and breakfast.
“More than 60 percent of our students have free or reduced lunches,” Dyar said. “We have a lot of students who depend on those two meals every day.”
Above all, the school needs to continue to function as a welcoming and safe environment for all students, Dyar said.
“We just want to provide a safe, warm place for students to come to,” Dyar said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.