Gwinnett Schools keep eye on possible wintry weather

Paula Richards-Bell, eighth-grade teacher at Jordan Middle School, helps her daughter Olivia Bell, 11, who is a sixth-grader at Jordan Middle School, with her digital learning day assignment at their home in Lawrenceville on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Gwinnett County schools, the largest school district in the state, launched its digital learning program on Jan. 8, when the threat of ice and frigid temperatures led administrators to close schools. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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While most of the winter weather predicted over the weekend will be confined to the northeast part of the state, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Karen Minton said she can’t rule out patches of sleet on the fringes of metro Atlanta beginning early Sunday.

“We could even see some freezing rain that creeps into parts of the metro area, too,” Minton said. “It’s staying out of Atlanta, but cutting into parts of Gwinnett, maybe even getting toward parts of Cherokee County, so we'll keep a close eye on it.”

The best chance of measurable ice accumulations will be north and east of Homer to Gainesville and Dawsonville, according to the Weather Service.

But the largest school district in the state isn’t taking chances.

“While we hope the wintry weather in the forecast misses us, we do have processes in place to monitor the weather in order to make decisions on if or how it may affect our ability to hold school,” said Gwinnett County Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach. “The key factor in all decisions about whether or not to hold school is the safety of students and staff.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools makes decisions regarding school closures due to inclement weather based on information from public safety officials, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, county officials, and the Department of Transportation, said Roach.

“In addition, when inclement weather is an issue, members of [Gwinnett Schools'] Facilities and Operations team head out as early as 3:30 or 4 a.m. to drive around the county to assess  road conditions. Facilities are checked in the early hours, and GCPS works with power providers, as needed. “

Roach added It’s more likely for school to be cancelled in the early morning — due to  hazardous road conditions that formed overnight.

“Typically, the decision to cancel school is made before 6 a.m. Announcements about school closures or delays are shared on GCPS TV, on the school system’s website, on Twitter and Facebook, through School Messenger calls and optional texts, and via metro-Atlanta new media outlets.” she said.

In the event that a school closure is necessary, the district could opt to hold a Digital Learning Day rather than using a snow make-up day.

In January snow and ice kept Gwinnett County students out of school for two full days and a delayed start on a Friday, so the school system put a new program into action. With digital learning days, students can go online to find assignments and communicate remotely with questions and requests for help.

The system is set up so kids can use computers, tablets, smartphones or no technology at all.

In anticipation of the January snow days, some teachers prepared students before they left school. The children brought home books and other materials so that even if their power went out, they’d still be able to get in learning time.

If the decision is made to hold a Digital Learning Day this go round, it will be communicated using SchoolMessenger, social media, the GCPS website, and local news outlets, and the school and district processes for online learning will go into effect. If a decision is made to use a standard make-up day, students and staff will not be expected to access assignments online.