One of the most challenging decisions a superintendent has to make is to close school due to inclement weather. This is not a decision made lightly and only after serious consideration and extensive consultation. Closing schools due to extreme temperatures is often times the least understood and most criticized decision. I want to take a moment to discuss the process for inclement weather closings in an attempt to take away some of the mystery behind these important determinations.
First and foremost, we consider the safety of our students. In Palos 118, the vast majority of students ride the bus to school daily. We begin our decision-making process by examining multiple weather reports days in advance, and scrutinizing forecasted temperatures and wind chill factors to determine if students waiting for school buses will be at significant risk for frostbite or hypothermia. We also examine any warnings and/or advisories issued by the National Weather Service. In our analysis, we consider the needs of both students we know will be dressed appropriately for the cold weather, and those students we fear will not. There is no bright line rule for freezing temperatures or extreme wind chill factors used to decide whether to close school. The decision to close is a day-to-day decision dependent upon changing forecasts.
When considering closing schools, we also analyze road conditions and the probability that our buses will run on schedule so riders are not left waiting in the cold for an extended period of time. As for our school buses themselves, we begin in December to prepare them for the cold weather by adding a cold weather additive to the fuel, and plugging the buses into electrical outlets at night to prevent fuel line freezes. Our buses have proven to be extremely reliable in bitterly cold temperatures. We also consider the safety of our students once they arrive at school, and ensure that each building is properly heated.
If the decision to close is made, we realize many families will need to make alternative arrangements for their children. That is why we attempt to make the decision to open or close as early as possible so families have adequate time to prepare and procure appropriate childcare.
Throughout my letter, you might have noticed I keep using "we" instead of "I" when discussing the decision to close schools. That's because this important decision is not made in isolation. In making the decision to open or close schools, I consult with a number of other administrators and department heads in 118, as well as superintendents from surrounding school districts; chief among them District 230 and the five other elementary school districts that feed into District 230.
Ultimately however, the final judgment to open or close schools is mine. Although you may or may not agree with my decision, please keep in mind your child's safety and education are my highest priority. And as always, you have the final say on whether or not to send your child to school during inclement weather. I respect any parent's decision to keep their child home on inclement weather days if they are concerned with their child's safety and security.
I hope this takes some of the mystery out of the decision to close schools due to extreme temperatures. For the record like many of you, I too walked to school as a child. I'd like to think my route to school was uphill both ways, and that I walked to school regardless of the temperature outside, but I know that wasn't the case. In reality, I was fortunate to have both caring parents and a school district looking out for my best interests.
Superintendent of Schools