Superintendent's Message: 1.23.2015

Perhaps you are like me–looking forward to warmer days ahead, when we’ll need more sunscreen and less Chapstick? We have 56 days to go before the official arrival of spring on Mar. 20, though, so I want to share some information with you about decisions to close school and the timing of those decisions.

On extreme weather days when parents hear yet another school district announce it’s closing due to anticipated wind chill, it’s reasonable to wonder why District 96 doesn’t immediately make the same announcement.

The decision to close school is more complex than most people realize, however.

For example, decisions to close are circumstance-specific and depend on:
conditions for our students who walk to school;
the ability of school bus drivers to report for work on time;
  the stability of weather predictions. That is, how likely is it that between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on the school day in question the weather will truly be what was predicted (with wind chill predictions typically more stable than snow predictions)?

Likewise, District administrators must consider other possibilities:
How long can a student wait safely at a bus stop for a bus that could be delayed?
What will be the consequences for passengers if a bus should break down in the extreme weather?

Also, unlike in District 96, school districts that announce closings early often run bus routes in more rural areas and designate pick-up in 15-minute time windows rather than at a specific time. Many school superintendents in our area use a newly revised windchill chart created by NOAA–the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service–and that chart shows conditions at which frostbite will occur in 15 minutes or less. Clearly, children who must wait at bus stops for a longer duration or who walk are at greater risk in extreme conditions. Some parents can drive their students to school in such circumstances, but many cannot.

Then there are the bus routes to consider, which make the potential for offering a delayed start quite complicated. For districts that own their buses, choosing to start a school day later or end a school day earlier is much simpler. However, District 96, District 102, and Stevenson share First Student buses operating from the same “bus barn.” A time change in one district affects all the districts. Not only would late arrival schedules have to be coordinated ahead of time, decisions on any given day would have to allow all routes to be run–including those routes that are “paired.”

We recognize that a decision to close schools might require alternative plans for child care and other work arrangements. Be assured that when I make that decision in collaboration with area superintendents also considering factors and circumstances like those in District 96, I inform our families immediately. Decisions to close due to extreme cold are more likely to come the evening before if–and only if–National Weather Service and NOAA information is sufficient to support closing for the safety of our students, faculty, and staff.

Note, however, it is unlikely that I will announce a decision to close due to expected snowfall before the morning of the day in question. When the snow falls is as important as how much snow is expected to fall. If roads can be plowed during the night and bus drivers can report, then school will likely be in session. We all can recall forecasts of snow that never fell and know that the media can make all-day news of an anticipated storm! For these reasons, my announcing a closing for snow the day before is unlikely. If we choose to close, our current practice is to communicate that decision as close to 5:00 a.m. as possible.

Finally, the importance of having your current contact information in our database is never more apparent than when anticipating a message of school closing. If your email address changes, it’s essential that you tell the administrative assistant at the school your student attends. Announcements about school closings or other changes in regular operation are made as promptly as possible by phone, email, and District and school website postings.  Thankfully, we are no longer dependent on the “calling trees” that some of us remember! 

Please remember to plan for the possibility that school could be in session for all of the five Emergency Days indicated on the District calendar (June 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10). If no more Emergency Days are needed in this current school year, the last day of required attendance will be June 4 for Willow Grove students and June 5 for students in Grades 1–7. Once we are beyond the severe weather window, the Board of Education will declare the last day of school.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I became a school administrator I never dreamed that meteorology would play such an important role!

A reminder for parents of current kindergartners and 5th graders:
It’s required that you visit your student’s current school before March 20 with these documents proving your residency:
• a current monthly mortgage or lease statement or tax bill
• a current utility bill

Requiring periodic proof of residency by grade level is our best defense against the continued fraudulent attempts by nonresidents to enroll their children in District 96 schools. We regret the inconvenience, but the savings to taxpayers is significant.

Prove your kindergartner’s and 5th grader’s residency at the school he or she attends currently. It’s important to do so by Fri., Mar. 20, so your student’s registration for the 2015–2016 school year is not held back. For your convenience, administrative assistants will accept proof of residency during parent/teacher conferences on March 12 and 13.
Chicago weather can be challenging, indeed, but we’ll bundle up and do our best to keep everyone’s focus on learning.

Take care,
Julie Schmidt, District 96 Superintendent of Schools