School officials face tough decision in severe weather

Dr. John Niblett
Dr. John Niblett

Posted by: Bryan Henry - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When a severe weather system threatens, local school officials have to decide whether to cancel or dismiss classes early. It's not a simple choice as many school principals can testify, but what goes into making that decision?

Predicting the weather isn't an easy task for trained meteorologists, so it's certainly not for school administrators who are tasked with the "do we stay open or do we close?" situation.

"This is an inexact science," said Montgomery County Public School spokesman Tom Salter. On this day Montgomery County public school officials did decide to dismiss some schools early; Dunbar Middle School and Pintlala Elementary were let out at 2pm.

The system's reasoning? "Because of road conditions, and there are lots of creeks and rivers near those two schools," said Salter.

Down the interstate at Hooper Academy, Headmaster Dr. John Niblett decided the same thing. He dismissed classes at 1:30. "I have more than 400 students to think about," said Niblett. For Niblett, it was he alone who made the call.

Back in Tom Salter's office, a team of four people made the decision. Together, they poured over radar images, consulted with the National Weather Service and watched WSFA 12 News meteorologists' predictions. They gathered all the information they needed and, in essence, ran it up the flagpole. "The superintendent makes the call," said Salter.

It's a call that often comes with complaints from parents who believe school officials over-react. Salter says that comes with the job of managing some 32,000 students. "We're not going to please everyone," he said.

"You make a decision and know not everyone will be happy," agreed Niblett.

Niblett and the county aren't the only ones who made the call, so did scores of other schools throughout the WSFA 12 News viewing area.

The choice was either to bet against the storm or play it safe. More than a few chose the latter.