Area districts consider closing for the cold

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Gazette staff
Saturday, January 4, 2014

Area school district officials Friday were weighing the merits of canceling classes Monday, when dangerously cold weather was forecast to descend on Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee and Madison school districts announced Friday they were canceling Monday classes. Gov. Scott Walker considered a blanket order for all the state's schools to be closed Monday, but he ultimately backed off, indicating those decisions should be made locally, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“Governor Walker will continue to monitor conditions day-by-day as it relates to the operation of state government,” said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson. “Local governments and school districts are encouraged to make individual determinations regarding school and government closures.”

The Gazette contacted area school districts and asked about their plans for Monday.


The Janesville School District said only that the superintendent would decide whether to cancel school or delay it by one hour.

The district suggested that families wait for notification via the AlertNow phone-alert system or check local news media to find out what the decision is. Closing and delay information will be posted no later than 6 a.m. Monday, the district said in a news release.

“Parents always have the option of keeping their child home due to inclement weather. Your child will receive a principal excused absence. Guardians must call the school the child attends to report the decision to keep them home,” the release states.


Milton schools Superintendent Tim Schigur said Friday the district had not yet called off school next week, but he there was a “very good chance” the district will at least start an hour or two late Monday and Tuesday.

He said area district administrators have seemed to agree they're leery of calling off school too far in advance in case the forecast changes from extreme cold to—well, cold, but not brutally cold.

“If it's a 'balmy' zero and you've called things too far in advance, you can't re-track,” Schigur said.

The biggest concern, Schigur said, is the safety of students while they're getting to and from school in the extreme cold.

“You have your walkers and the kids who are waiting for the bus,” Schigur said. “Right now you see some of them wearing shorts to school, or not wearing gloves. You don't call school because of somebody wearing shorts, but how do you know the kids are going to come to school prepared?”

Even those who are on a bus for the bulk of their school commute could have to contend with the extreme cold.

“You've got to look at the capabilities for keeping a school bus warm. In the back of the bus is there really enough heat? How do you ensure those kids are warm?” Schigur said.


Edgerton schools Superintendent Dennis Pauli said the district was waiting until Sunday to decide whether to have school Monday. He said the district's trigger for calling off school would be if the school district falls under a wind chill warning throughout the school day Monday or Tuesday.

In Wisconsin, the National Weather Service issues a wind chill warning when the wind chill reaches minus 35 degrees for at least three hours.

Forecasts on Friday were for a wind chill warning to be in effect in parts of southern Wisconsin from 6 p.m. Sunday through noon Tuesday. The National Weather Service forecasted wind chills as low as minus 50 degrees overnight Monday.


Delevan-Darien Superintendent Bob Crist said he was waiting to see what the weather actually brings.

“It depends of if the meteorologists are totally correct,” Crist said. “Obviously, if it's 40 below with wind chill, I would call off school.”

Crist said he would wait until Sunday or, at the very latest, 5 a.m. Monday, to make a decision about closing school.

Although most students come from either Delavan or Darien, the district also includes seven rural towns.

Notifications will be sent out to parents via e-mail and phone on the district's alert system. There will also be postings on social media and the district's website, ddschools.org.


Whitewater United School District Superintendent Eric Runez said a decision to cancel school because of the cold would be made Sunday.

Runez said he and other superintendents in the county have been talking about if and when to close.

“When things start getting to be 30 below or colder, school districts are having conversations about whether it's safe for students to be walking to school,” Runez said.

Parents will be notified by 6:30 a.m. Monday by e-mail and phone through the district's alert system. It will also be posted on the district's website, wwusd.org.


Sharon Community School District Administrator Lillian Henderson said she would make a decision Sunday about the cold.

Parents will be notified through the school's alert system. E-mails and phone messages will be sent out if a decision is made to cancel school.

“We have a lot of walkers, and I worry about them,” Henderson said.

The district runs its own bus service, and on cold days the buses wait at the end of driveways for kids so they don't have to stand in the cold.

In addition, the buses often make a second trip around the village to pick up any students who are walking to school.


“If it's in the ballpark of what they're saying, it's kind of a no-brainer,” Albany Superintendent Steve Guenther said about canceling school.

He'll most likely make the decision Sunday night. At the forecasted temps, all it takes is one kid who walks to school or waits for a bus too long to get frostbitten, he said.


“If it's going to be as cold as they say it's going to be, we will close schools,” Beloit School District spokeswoman Melissa Badger said.

The district's guideline is to cancel school when the wind chill hits minus 35. The district has a lot of younger kids who walk to school or wait for buses.

“We want to make sure we keep all of them safe,” she said.


Beloit Turner Superintendent Dennis McCarthy usually considers canceling school when there's a sustained wind chill of minus 25 to minus 30, he said.

If that's an absolute as of Sunday night, he said he might cancel Monday's classes then.

All of the district's resident students have the option of being bused, while most of the nonresident students get rides to school, he said. Many kids choose to walk anyway, so the district sent an email to parents Thursday explaining the forecast and saying they might want to consider not having kids walk to school regardless of how close they live, he said.


Brodhead Superintendent Leonard Lueck said in a phone message his district is similar to most other area districts in canceling school if the temperature hits minus 25 or the wind chill hits minus 35.


Evansville Superintendent Jerry Roth said he will be in touch with at least a dozen area superintendents over the weekend, and depending on the forecast, he could make the call on canceling school Sunday night or Monday morning.

He typically will cancel if the temperature hits minus 25 or the wind chill hits minus 35. His concern is for students who walk to school or wait outdoors for buses, along with making sure buses can start and run in the subzero weather.


School is generally canceled when the temperature or wind chill hits 35 below zero to 40 below zero, Superintendent Steve Lutzke said. If the forecast holds true, he said, he likely would cancel school Sunday night.

“That doesn't sound like anything we want to be out in,” he said.

His bus company told him the buses probably would start, but it's hard for the bus cabin to heat up to a comfortable temperature. About 60 percent of students ride buses to school, he said.

“You don't want to be seeing your breath on the bus either,” he said.


Clinton District Administrator Randy Refsland said he already had a message set up for the district's automatic calling system canceling school on Monday.

“All I have to do is hit send,” Refsland said.

He'll wait until Sunday to make a decision.

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