Editorial: School’s out … for winter?

By on February 2, 2014

The month of January is when students are supposed to return to school and begin their second semester, not enjoy multiple four-day weekends almost immediately following the conclusion of Christmas break. Yet that’s exactly what has happened this winter, thanks to two separate cold fronts that have turned the Kaneland community, its surrounding areas and much of the country into one giant ice cube.

Yeah, this winter has been a doozy. According to Channel 9 meteorologist Tom Skilling, winter 2014 ranks as the 12th-coldest (and fifth-snowiest) of the 143 examples on record. It has produced the second-most number of days with 0-degree-or-below temperatures (18). Of course, winter 2014 doesn’t have anything on some of the devastatingly cold winters that occurred during the 1970s, but it’s been bad enough to force four school cancellations this month. And there might be more on the way.

We recently spoke with Kaneland Superintendent Jeff Schuler about the process that goes into cancelling school, and unsurprisingly, temperature and road conditions are the two main factors that determine whether or not school will be in session. According to Schuler, there isn’t a set temperature that forces the School District into closure for the day. Rather, the district looks at a combination of temperature and wind chill to determine whether it’s safe to open school. Road conditions are trickier to gauge, as the the Kaneland School District covers about 140 square miles.

“Clearly during snow events, we look at the conditions of the roads,” Schuler said. “If we determine that we can’t get students to school safely, then we make a decision. It is important to remember that we have about 140 square miles in our district. Weather and road conditions may not be exactly the same in all areas. When we make a decision, is is based on the safety of all students and areas.”

For those of you wondering what happens to cancelled school sessions, five emergency days (to make up for potential cancellations) are identified whenever a school year’s calendar is approved. According to Schuler, the only time Kaneland students might actually miss a day of school is if the School District uses all five of its emergency days.

“In that case, there is some language in the school code that allows you to only make up the first five days,” Schuler said.

When cancelling school, District 302 makes the decision no later than 5:30 a.m. the day of the school session. However, for the four school cancellations this month, Kaneland made the call the day prior to the school session, thanks to a weather forecast dominated by sub-zero temperatures. Ultimately, Kaneland’s goal is to give parents as much notice as possible while also helping the School District ensure that it has the accurate information necessary to make the best decision.

Still, four school cancellations in a month indicates the severity of the arctic fronts that have swept through a good portion of this country. It’s certainly unlike anything we’ve experienced, and we’re not alone in that assessment.

“This has been an interesting month. I think the weather patterns have been very unusual—something I have not experienced in my time as a superintendent,” Schuler said. “The decision to close school is not an easy one, as I understand that it impacts lots of families. However, our goal is to keep students safe, and that is always the basis for every decision we make to cancel school.”

It can’t be an easy decision to cancel an entire school day, but given the unbelievably harsh weather we’ve experienced this winter, Kaneland was right to shelve four January school sessions.

Besides, with emergency days available, why take the risk?