Cold temperatures push school calendars further into summer

The arctic temperatures in McHenry County this month have landed cars in ditches, caused pipes to burst and – for the first time in years – kept kids out of the classroom.

Area school districts are used to one or two snow days a year, but because of the subzero temperatures most schools have canceled four days of classes, which will push the school calendar further into the summer.

“This winter has been awful,” said John Burkey, District 158 superintendent. “I can never recall having to have so many days off of school because of extreme temperatures.”

Burkey said it is a “rarity” to have school canceled due to the cold, but he added that it made predicting the weather – and informing parents – much easier.

“Temperatures you know ahead of time. With snow, you don’t,” he said. “Temperature forecasts tend to be much more accurate than snow forecasts.”

District 158 and all other districts in the state are required by the Illinois State Board of Education to have five emergency days built into the schedule. Districts have the option of using institute days, which are work days for teachers, to make up missed classroom time, but many districts prefer to extend the school year so teachers can use those days for professional development, according to Carol Smith, spokeswoman for Woodstock District 200.

“This is an unusual year,” Smith said. “In my 12 years of working in school districts, I have never worked a year where we have used all of our emergency days.”

The last day for District 200 schools was originally scheduled for May 21, but it has been extended now beyond Memorial Day to May 28, Smith said.

If there is another drastic temperature drop or a heavy snowstorm that keeps students out of school for two more days, districts will have used up their allotment of emergency days, causing schools to request an “Act of God” day.

“Act of God days reduce the required number of student attendance days in the school calendar, but do not negatively impact general state aid,” Illinois Board of Education Media Relations Manager Mary Fergus said.

An Act of God day must be approved by the district’s regional superintendent and the state superintendent of education, and they are not required to be made up at the end of the year, Fergus said.

Schools also are allowed to modify their calendars to schedule additional days at the end of the school year if they have used all of their emergency days, she said.

Crystal Lake District 47 is set to finish its school year on June 10 after initially planning to end on June 4, according to Claire Bourne, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

Last year, District 47 had just one weather cancellation. In 2011-12, it didn’t have any. The last time District 47 had more than two snow days was in the 2008-09 school year, Bourne said.

“We haven’t used four days since I’ve been tracking back to 2001, when we used three days,” she said.

While closing school often puts a burden on working parents who need to find child care, Burkey said the feedback from parents has been mostly positive.

“It’s definitely an inconvenience for parents,” he said. “But most parents understand why we had to do it. They don’t want their kids out in this. We don’t want kids standing out on bus stops in the cold.”

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