When weather impacts if Indianapolis Public Schools will open, close or delay for the day, a whole team of professionals are behind that careful decision.

Five drivers—three from IPS and two from Durham School Services, the district’s transportation contractor—are out on the streets early. They drive in five different areas of the district, on both main streets and side roads, to get as complete a picture of conditions as possible. And four of these five drivers are former bus drivers themselves, ones with several years of experience judging that line between safe and unsafe.

On January 6 Kristin Cutler, Media Relations Coordinator for the Public Relations Division of IPS, rode along with Scott Martin, the Deputy Superintendent for Operations, to get a first-hand look at the district’s weather-related decision making process. Here’s what she saw:

3:30 a.m.: Begin near John Morton-Finney Center for Education Services (commonly referred to as the IPS Ed Center downtown) —heading North. Looks like 2-3 inches of snow, but light powder so it’s easy to push through. No slush or deep ruts to get stuck in.
 
3:45 a.m.: Wind through main roads and side streets on our way to the district’s northern border. Test the traction of the roads with some quick stops—we’re using 2-wheel drive to ensure the experience is similar to the average parent’s drive.
 
4:05 a.m.: Assess parking lot and sidewalk conditions at IPS schools. In addition to the morning commute, safety of our students and employees once they arrive at school is key!
 
4:15 a.m.: Pit stop at Broad Ripple High School to estimate snowfall totals—appears to be 4-5 inches. Check weather models and Department of Public Works website to track forecast and street clearing plans for the rest of the morning. (True fact: Deputy Superintendent Martin is a weather nut! He enjoys tracking models from the national weather service and other sources days in advance to look at the coming weather trends and how they might impact the district.)
 
4:25 a.m.: Continue traveling the neighborhood streets near Broad Ripple. Four of the five drivers on the early morning team were once bus drivers, so they know what our bus drivers are facing for the commute. At 4 inches buses slow down for optimal safety, but we’re not looking at serious concerns.
 
4:35 a.m.: Heading back downtown. Assessing driving conditions, number of plows and walking conditions to prepare individual recommendation. Clear sidewalks are important to ensure students aren’t walking in the roads on the way to school!
 
4:45 a.m.: Check in with other drivers to compare conditions in all areas of the district and agree upon a recommendation. With relatively easy-driving snow and clear pathways for walkers, it looks good for a regular start time to the school day.
 
4:55 a.m.: Call Superintendent Ferebee to make a recommendation on behalf of the team.
 
5:10 a.m.: Official decision is announced to begin classes on regular schedule.
 

By the time the team confers with Dr. Ferebee, they have combined hours of driving in and observing current conditions that morning with their years of experience and their assessment of what weather is still looming into their recommendation.

On January 6 the decision was to proceed with regular schedule. But it’s clear many factors play into this decision: amount and type of precipitation, temperature/wind chill, status of clearing roads, status of clearing sidewalks, refreeze of melted snow/ice from previous day, blowing snow and continued snow in forecast.​

The school open, close or delay decision is truly the product of a team of professionals doing their best to keep IPS students and families safe when weather becomes hazardous and one more example of the district’s commitment to service excellence to our community.