Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tips for staying safe when it's COLD outside!

Here is my first video entry.  My goal is to remind people how to dress warmly during the "Polar Vortex."  My disclaimer is that I am not a meteorologist, medical doctor, or winter survival expert.  I am a winter outdoor enthusiast, who is concerned about students traveling to and from school.

Muchas gracĂ­as a Lucia Maldonado para la tradducion.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Is a "Snow Day" an "Act of God?"

"Act of God Days (Calendar Code AOG) may only be applied for after the district has exhausted all of the Proposed Emergency Days built into the Proposed Calendar. Act of God Days may only be used for a condition beyond the control of the district that poses a hazardous threat to the health and safety of the students. These days must be approved by the Regional Superintendent and the State Superintendent of Education. Act of God Days reduce the required number of student attendance days in the Public School Calendar, but do not negatively impact General State Aid. (Citation 105 ILCS 5/18-12)" - Key Checkpoints to Review Before Approval of the Public School Calendar, Illinois State Board of Education 
Despite the title of this post, I am not going to explain where snow comes from, enter into a theological debate about God, or even discuss the interesting legal issues regarding Illinois School Code referring to “Act of God Days.” 
One of the most common questions that I am asked after a weather related closing of school is, “Do we have to make this day up in May or June?”  The short answer is always, “Yes!”  The Illinois School Code and Illinois State Board of Education Guidance regarding public school calendars requires all public schools to build in five (5) extra days for weather-related closings.  That means that the first five closings of any given school year are already in the calendar and will be made up.  Beyond five closings, the “Act of God” provision kicks in. 
If a school district has more than five weather-related or emergency closings in one school year, the district must submit a request to the Regional Office of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education for a waiver to avoid having to make up these additional days.  Not all of these waivers are approved.
I completely understand why people are so curious about “make-up days.”  Summer travel plans for students and families, scheduling summer school, and planning professional development activities all require advanced planning.  Unfortunately, one cannot reason with winter weather.  We just all have to dress warmly, drive slowly, and enjoy winter.

Many Illinois districts have already passed five days.  Right now, the district I work for is at five (5) [UPDATED January 29, 2014].  While I love winter, I am hoping that we don’t see another Polar Vortex or heavy snowfall for the next five months. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why are you closing school?!

When I took the post of Superintendent in a small-urban, Central Illinois school district, people joked about the fact that we would never see another winter weather closing.  I grew up in Minneapolis, MN.  I love winter. In fact, the colder the better - as long as there is plenty of snow. 

Today, I am facing down my fourth, yes, FOURTH winter weather closing of the 2013-2014 winter.  Closing school is never an easy decision, mainly because it is not an exact science.  My primary consideration is the safety of students.  The majority of students in our district live within 1.5 miles from their school, and therefore do not receive transportation from the district.  In extreme temperatures, I watch young children walk to school without hats, gloves, and, sometimes, proper jackets.  Many students walk 10, 15, 20, and even 30 minutes or more. 

Closing a school due to snow or extreme cold is not something I take lightly.  I always prefer to keep students in school, however, if the weather is so extreme that a student is at risk of frost-bite or worse, we have to balance the desire to hold school with student safety.  When it is clear that weather might be an issue, we spend a great deal of time consulting experts, glued to apps and websites - the National Weather Service is my favorite:  We also talk to public works, grounds crews, transportation experts, and other superintendents.  The decision to close schools is not an exact science.  There is a lot of room for error, especially when there is pressure to make a decision early enough for families to make childcare arrangements. 

I have learned that there are a lot of misconceptions about frost-bite.  The National Weather Service Wind Chill Chart ( helps me explain the dangers of cold temperatures and wind chill to parents, students, and colleagues.  However, I always stress that this chart is not "the" answer for when to close school; it just provides one more piece of the puzzle.  

Either way, I am not sure any winter weather school closing decision is 100% obvious.  I know I will hear when people disagree, and I honestly do appreciate the dialogue, because it provides additional opportunities for education and reflection.  

As a Minnesotan, I also feel the need to advocate for outdoor winter activities.  I run, ski, sled, walk, and play outside in extreme temperatures.  During the recent “Polar Vortex” I spent several hours outside shoveling snow and walking to and from schools.  However, I was dressed appropriately:  multiple layers, all skin covered, and exposed areas (around eyes and nose) covered with Dermatone.  Unfortunately, not all of our families have the means to dress for the Polar Vortex. Which means we have to wrestle with the decision to close schools to protect children from frostbite and hypothermia. 

Stay safe and warm.