Education

Here’s why DeKalb, Sycamore districts didn’t cancel school during bitter cold Wednesday, administrators say

“I know it’s not everyone’s favorite answer, but about 60% of students were in attendance today,” said DeKalb Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez.

DeKALB - The DeKalb area recorded wind chills as low as minus 32 degrees Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

DeKalb Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez said the decision to keep schools open Wednesday was the relatively comparative temperature to the day before. Both days recorded highs of around 7 degrees, and subzero temperatures and windchills in the early mornings.

“The temperature was only 3 or 4 degrees colder than the day before, and we had school then,” she said. “I’m cautious to say any particular number is cold enough to call off school. It’s not just a number that we base the decision off of, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. We have to consider students and families and how school is a warm, safe place to be with food.”

According to the National Weather Service, about 4 a.m. Wednesday, wind chills in the DeKalb area registered among the coldest in Illinois west of Chicago. Frostbite can occur on exposed skin in such weather in as little as a half hour. Temperatures at DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport during the early morning hours Wednesday fell to minus 14 degrees, and wind chills were at minus 32 degrees.

Joliet Public Schools District 86 elected to cancel classes, and high school students went remote Wednesday. Sterling and Dixon schools delayed Wednesday’s starts by two hours because of the cold morning temperatures.

Garcia-Sanchez said that she received multiple emails by parents questioning the decision to have school despite the subzero temperatures.

“I know it’s not everyone’s favorite answer, but about 60% of students were in attendance today,” she said.

In the DeKalb school district, if a parent or guardian kept their children home from school Wednesday because of the cold weather, the absence was an excused absence, the superintendent said. In Sycamore, Superintendent Steve Wilder said decisions regarding excused or unexcused absences are made at a building level and based on students’ individual circumstances.

Garcia-Sanchez said that the decision to declare an emergency day depends on multiple factors, including driving and road conditions and whether buses will start in the cold temperatures.

Sh said she often deliberates with the other superintendents through the DeKalb Regional Office of Education, including Wilder, the evening and morning before a school day if a weather event is forecasted.

“I look at a variety of factors such as amount of snowfall, the timing of the snowfall, road conditions for buses, students, staff, safety for students waiting at bus stops, and more,” Wilder said.

Wilder said that multiple factors led to Sycamore School District’s decision to keep school open. He said temperatures didn’t reach levels where they impeded school buses from running, there wasn’t any recent snowfall on the roads and pickup times for students already were established.

“I felt that we could get everyone to school safely and that they had the opportunity to prepare for the cold temperatures,” Wilder said. “The temperatures were predicted to improve during the day so I knew the afternoon wouldn’t be as much of an issue.”

DeKalb families are notified of snow days through a robocall and by email up to 5 a.m. that day of school, Garcia-Sanchez said. If school is open, no announcements are made.

“As a parent of three myself, I understand the need for childcare, advance notice and juggling work and school,” she said. “I do listen and care, and I respond to all emails I receive immediately. When making decisions, we always put our students’ health, safety and learning first.”

Wilder said he thinks more schools will move to e-learning on emergency days to help with the continuity of learning.

“In-person learning is our priority,” Wilder said. “We were able to meet students’ needs last year during remote and hybrid learning, but optimal learning happens in person.”