School year running to hot and cold extreme for Fox Valley districts
By Suzanne Baker firstname.lastname@example.org January 8, 2014 8:12PM
Elgin crossing guard Tammy Pashulk, believes in layers as she creates safe passage for students crossing the street. Bitter cold weather hits the area, as students arrive to Washington School all bundled up after extended winter break. Wednesday, January 8, 2014. | Joseph Cyganowski-For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 10, 2014 11:06AM
It’s been a year of extremes for Fox Valley School Districts.
Local schools reopened Wednesday after shutting down Monday and Tuesday as dangerous cold and wind chill factors settled in over the area.
Four months earlier, some local schools were forced to close because of high heat.
The weather events have left many wondering what else might be in store before school lets out in the spring.
Hot and cold
Just weeks into the school year, Aurora-based Indian Prairie School District 204 cancelled classes for two days at 20 district schools because the buildings have no air conditioning. That second week of September saw temperatures climb into the 90s with the heat index topping out at 99 degrees.
This week the pendulum swung the other way, forcing hundreds of schools throughout the Midwest to close as the wind chill factor dipped to 46 below zero in the area on Monday and was only slightly higher on Tuesday.
And with winter far from over, the possibility of more heavy snow — and not just on the weekends or holidays — continues to loom.
Indian Prairie students affected by last fall’s heat will not have to make up those days at the end of the school year because other Indian Prairie schools were open. But like other Illinois students whose classes were cancelled this week, they will have to make up the cold weather days.
While the Indiana Department of Education is granting school districts waivers for those who cancelled school Monday and Tuesday, that is not the case in Illinois.
Mary Fergus, media relations manager at Illinois State Board of Education, said school districts in Illinois are required to schedule at least five emergency days in their school calendar.
For example, Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300 set May 23 as its tentative last attendance day for 2014. With the two emergency closings so far this school year, the district can use a spring break day in April and days set aside after Memorial Day (May 26) to make up for the lost classroom instructional days.
“These emergency days may be used at the discretion of the district, but must be made up prior to the end of the school year,” Fergus said. “Any unused emergency days must be removed prior to submitting the final school calendar.”
If a district uses all of its five emergency days, Fergus said, it has a couple of options for closing school.
‘Act of God Day’
“If a district must cancel classes due to a weather emergency or other condition that poses a hazardous threat to the health and safety of students, it may request approval for an Act of God Day or modify the calendar to schedule additional days at the end of the school year,” she said.
An Act of God Day must be approved by the district’s regional superintendent and the state superintendent. Act of God Days reduce the required number of student attendance days in the school calendar, but do not negatively impact general state aid.
The ultimate decision regarding emergency days rests in the hands of local school superintendents. Many superintendents will consult with municipal leaders for updates on road and traffic condition and the transportation company that provides bus service. Information also is gathered from the schools to ensure the buildings are safe for students and ensure parking lots and sidewalks on the premises are cleared of any ice, snow or other obstructions.
Schools can be closed in the event of a weather emergency such as this week’s extreme cold, or due to condition that poses a hazardous threat to the health and safety of students such as a power failure or water shut-off.
South Elgin High School students got a taste of the latter on Wednesday when an overhead water pipe burst in the school that morning. Students were directed back to their classrooms and away from the gushing water while maintenance personnel and firefighters worked to repair the pipe and perform cleanup near the entrance to the school. The incident forced school officials to extend the school day an extra hour, according to reports.