Corey Ryan barely slept last Thursday night.
As a rare downpour of fluffy white snow fell throughout Texas, Ryan was one of several Leander ISD employees who drove the 200-square miles of the district roadways to personally survey weather conditions before making a final decision about any cancellation or delay for Friday Dec. 8.
About 25 area school districts, including Austin ISD, made the call early, cancelling schools and notifying parents as early as 10 p.m. that night.
“Meteorologists said black ice was anticipated in some areas of the city,” said AISD spokesperson Tiffany Young. “AISD buses have such varied routes across the city and staff must begin getting to the bus barns at 4 a.m. (We also have) staff traveling from outside of the city to Austin, and it was determined that it was important for the district to close for the safety and security of students and staff.”
Leander ISD took a more measured approach, waiting to call for a regular school day at 5:30 a.m. Friday morning.
Ryan and the district’s administration knew that no matter what decision was made, there would be those who would question the decision.
As district staff monitored conditions and released updates on social media throughout the night, reactions started pouring in from both angry and supportive parents on social media. A total of 210 mixed reactions and more than 100 mixed comments came from a 10 p.m. Facebook announcement on the Leander ISD page.
Some expressed safety concerns for their children’s morning commutes, while others supported the district or sent sarcastic memes directed at those comments. Sixteen people emailed the district concerned about their decision. Two were anonymous.
A fake LISD Twitter account also formed, stating school had been canceled, and a media outlet wrongly reported it, Ryan said.
According to an official district email sent to parents early Friday morning, the district found that there was no reported road closures within the attendance area, no indications of poor road conditions during staff assessments, as well as no precipitation despite freezing temperatures.
Only four other Central Texas school districts remained open without change: Dripping Springs, Lake Travis, Round Rock and Georgetown.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and we’re trying to make the best decision for families and kids,” Ryan said. “We’re a large organization. My point is that it’s a tough decision either way, you’re making a call for 39,000 kids. Staff utilize every resource at their disposal before making that decision.”
Before making the decision, the superintendent and staff spoke with local law enforcement about road closures and conditions, as well as personally drove routes. The administration also communicated with Austin-area school districts and universities to discuss the approach of surrounding schools and consults with a local meteorologist from the National Weather Service.
“When possible we want to match what our peers are doing and we want to do what’s best for our communities,” Ryan said. “The weather can be very different here than Elgin or Bastrop.”
No bus issues were reported Friday morning. Had the school called a snow day, one of two built-in days would be used.
Friday saw a district-wide 93.2 percent attendance report. Thursday had 96 percent, and the previous Friday saw 95.7 percent attendance. The attendance was similar to the Friday before Thanksgiving this year, Ryan said.
Some concerned parents made claims the district remained open purely for financial reasons, related to the Texas Education Agency’s weighted average daily attendance
“I’ve been on bad weather calls for eight years,” Ryan said. “I can tell you, there’s not enough time to talk about funding losses from calling snow days. Who’s to say if you cancel you don’t get that funding?”
In the end, despite a number of complaints about the district's decision to remain open, there were no road closures or significant weather-related traffic congestion in the area on Friday morning.
By mid-morning, most all of the traces of snow had melted away.