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McHenry County school officials discuss what goes into decision to call snow days

School officials explain how decision to cancel school is made

John Edwards of Crystal Lake braves subzero temperatures in the District 47 and 155 parking lot to clear snow from the side of his bus before heading out on his route Jan. 6, 2015, in Crystal Lake.
John Edwards of Crystal Lake braves subzero temperatures in the District 47 and 155 parking lot to clear snow from the side of his bus before heading out on his route Jan. 6, 2015, in Crystal Lake.

A decision to cancel school in inclement weather is never an easy one, local school officials said.

Faced with substantial snowfall Monday and near-record cold Wednesday and Thursday, all McHenry County schools experienced closures this week.

When severe weather warnings are issued by the National Weather Service, superintendents and district officials spring into action to determine whether to close school.

Shannon Podzimek, director of communications for Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155, said a decision to cancel school is not made in haste. District staff pay close attention to road conditions and communicate with surrounding districts, she said.

The district alerts students, parents and staff of a decision before 5 a.m. on a school day, Podzimek said.

“The decision to cancel school due to snow, ice and cold weather conditions is taken seriously,” she said in a statement. “D-155 administrators monitor warnings and watches from the National Weather Service, the timing of expected weather conditions and the blowing and drifting and/or rate of snowfall. On an extremely cold day, we evaluate actual air temperature, wind chill and the timing and duration of the low temperatures.”

Before a decision to close is made, she said the district may deploy grounds staff at 2 a.m. to assess roads, and that Superintendent Steve Olson drives several local roads before 5 a.m.

Podzimek said district officials also are in contact with feeder districts, surrounding school districts, Nunda and Algonquin townships and the Transportation Joint Agreement’s director of transportation, who manages buses for Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 and District 155.

“Area superintendents communicate with each other prior to each weather event and oftentimes collaborate on making a decision,” Podzimek said.

District 155 does not have a policy in place for E-Learning days, where students do classwork at home, and it would require board action if it were to implement one.

“We’re aware that some districts have E-Learning days, and it’s something we could consider in the future,” Podzimek said.

Denise Barr, District 47’s coordinator of community relations, said in a statement that she believes most parents were pleased with the district’s decision to cancel class Wednesday and Thursday, when temperatures reached dangerously cold levels.

“Snow days may be an inconvenience for people who rely on their students being at school while they work and find themselves in a position to find alternative day care during snow days,” she said. “However, with the historically cold weather this week, it is our understanding that people are satisfied that the district closed, as it was the safest decision for everyone involved.”

Barr said the district has an adequate supply of salt and de-icer, and, like other area districts, there are five days allotted for snow days every school year.

“District 47 will have used four of the five emergency days after this week’s cold spell,” she said. “Once all emergency days are exhausted, the state has advised districts that they may elect to use an ‘act of God day.’ ”

Barr said act of God days must be approved by the regional superintendent and the state superintendent of education and count toward the required number of student attendance days in the public school calendar. They are not required to be made up. 

When asked about a delayed-start program for snowy days, Barr said “due to logistical issues involved” such a program hasn’t been discussed.

Kevin Lyons, director of communications for Woodstock School District 200, said his district is considering a two-hour delayed-start program.

“It’s something we’ve been discussing with the school board. ... Harvard [School District 50] is doing that already,” Lyons said, adding that District 200 communicates with the county’s transportation department before declaring a snow day.

District 200 also allots five days for snow and has used all of them.

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