The state of Alabama generally does not see a lot of snowfall in any given year, but when the white stuff does fall from the sky, it takes more than buying all the milk and bread at the local supermarket to prepare.
The National Weather Service predicted snowfall for Monday in North Alabama that would not exceed half an inch. For school superintendents, that meant collecting as much information as possible and making a tough call one way or another.
The day began early for Superintendent Randy Shearouse of Limestone County Schools. Shearouse said he woke up at 4 a.m. and went outside to check the weather.
“As the morning progressed, we started seeing more snow,” he said. “The temperature was hovering around 30 degrees (Fahrenheit), and we felt like we needed to heed caution. Having school means buses and teenagers out on the road, and the safety of our children is our No. 1 concern. We didn't want to take any chances.”
The decision had already been made to delay the opening of LCS schools Monday morning, but given what he saw and the information available to him, Shearouse made the call to cancel school for the day.
He said he spoke with members of the local emergency management agency as well as the system's transportation director, who had driven around early that morning to assess road conditions.
Shearouse said part of the reason behind the decision was how Limestone County, and therefore the school system, expands up to the Tennessee border, which can feature some different terrain than farther south.
“It's never a perfect decision when you make a weather call,” he said. “You have to look at all the information available to you.”
Since county schools would be out Monday, Shearouse said he hoped students would enjoy the snow day.
“We only get a few snows a year,” he said. “There were a lot of kids in my neighborhood playing in the snow this morning. We want them to enjoy this moment. The kids need a little fun.”
Monday started just as early for Beth Patton, superintendent of Athens City Schools. She said she and her husband were up by 4:15 a.m. and out on the streets to evaluate road conditions.
“We drove through town around Athens to see if we saw ice,” Patton said. “The parking lots and streets were clear. There was no ice anywhere on our campuses.”
She said they spent two hours traveling between the schools and checking on conditions. She asked bus drivers if they had issues coming in, but there were none.
Patton ultimately made the call to hold school for ACS on time as scheduled.
“It's never an easy decision,” she said. “We have so many families who do not have child care during the day, and we were worried about having kids left at home unsupervised. There are some who need the meals at school, and some who need the heat.”
Though students were still set to attend school, that did not mean they could not enjoy the snow day. Photos and videos from across the system were posted to social media, showing children and even teachers playing in the snow, including sliding down a hill at FAME Academy at Brookhill Elementary and building a snowman at Athens Middle School.
“Everywhere, even at the high school building, our students have gotten a chance to enjoy it, and we want them to,” Patton said.
The school systems continued to keep an eye on the weather throughout Monday, too. As of The News Courier's press deadline, ACS and LCS had each announced a three-hour delay to bus routes and the start of classes Tuesday.