LEWISBURG — “It’s one of the toughest calls I have to make all year,” Greenbrier County Schools Superintendent John Curry said Thursday, concerning how he decides when schools in the county should be called off because of inclement weather.

And in Greenbrier County, the decision could be tougher than other counties throughout the state.

Greenbrier County is geographically the second-largest county east of the Mississippi with 1,021 square miles within its borders, second only to Randolph County.

The eastern and western ends of the county are separated by a large valley, commonly referred to as “The Big Levels” or “The Richlands.”

With such a large area, weather conditions on one end of the county can be completely different from on the other end.

For instance, the elevation of Quinwood (western end) is 3,040 feet and the elevation of White Sulphur Springs (eastern end) is 1,880.

This plays a major role in the winter, when the higher elevations of the county can sometimes receive double the amount of snow than the lower lying regions.

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When the Thursday forecast for Greenbrier County included an ice storm and up to 3 inches of snow, Curry first made the decision to delay school for two hours so he could evaluate how the school buses could navigate through the county.

“The primary goal is to ensure that the kids are safe,” he said. “I was out at 7 a.m. driving around to see what the conditions were.”

Curry also relies on Kenny Baker, who heads up the county’s transportation department.

He said Baker often wakes up at 3:30 a.m. in order to gauge what the weather is doing.

“If I am going to err, it’s going to be on the side of safety,” Curry said.

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Curry eventually decided to call off school after the snow and ice began to accumulate.

It was the third time this year that Greenbrier County schools had been closed because of snow. County schools closed nine times last year.

In previous years, schools have been closed up to 16 times during the winter.

Because of the way the school calendar is constructed by the state Legislature, school cannot begin for children before Aug. 26 and must end by June 8.

The law also states that children must be in school for 180 instructional days.

However, there are only four days within the calendar that can be made up for snow days; the rest of the days are lost, regardless of what the law says.

“You don’t have a lot of flexibility for the school year when it comes to snow days,” Curry said.

“Almost every county in the state will lose instructional days. All superintendents have the same dilemma,” he added.

Then why doesn’t school stay open for parts of the county which don’t receive snow?

“About 70 percent of the time, it’s bad on both ends of the county,” he said. “It’s been discussed about closing just some of the schools, but it would be very complex to close just half of the county. What you gain would not be beneficial enough to warrant it.”

Curry said Virginia schools close more often than West Virginia schools, but they make up all of their snow days at the end of the year because of their open-ended school calendar.

For now, when bad weather strikes, all county schools will be closed.

“I hope we have a mild winter form this point on,” he said. “Kids need to be in school and need consistency.”

— E-mail: cgiggenbach@register-herald.com

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