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Weather delays, closures often difficult call for educators

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When temperatures drop to zero and as wind chills head even lower, local superintendents must decide whether students could make it to school safely or if school openings should be delayed.

Most superintendents consider pushing the start of school back by two hours once the wind chill is minus 10 degrees or colder. Tuesday morning, the wind chill was about minus 15, and superintendents were divided on what to do.

Franklin and Edinburgh delayed the start of school by two hours. This was the eighth two-hour delay for Franklin and the 12th for Edinburgh. Franklin Superintendent David Clendening doesn’t want students to miss any more time in class, but he also knew that the bitter cold would be at its worst in rural areas where there’s nothing to stop the wind.

“We’re going to err on the side of safety in getting kids to school,” Clendening said.

Other local school districts started at the usual time.

Subzero temperatures have caused at least delays for all local school districts this winter. By now students know how to dress so that they stay warm on their way to school, and transportation directors know what to do so buses don’t freeze up and stop working as the temperature drops, Greenwood Superintendent Kent DeKoninck and Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.

None of the school districts has changed its standards for canceling or delaying the start of school this winter. But students already have missed more than a week of school because of the cancellations and two-hour delays.

At Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson, this is the first week students have had without any kind of delay since returning from Christmas break. Interim Superintendent Becky Courtney-Knight wanted to be sure students made it to school safely but also worries about the amount of school they have missed.

“Subconsciously, I know that these kids are missing out on instruction,” she said. “I’d be a liar to say I don’t think that had any effect at all.”

School officials know that parents don’t always agree with decisions on whether to cancel or postpone the start of school. Courtney-Knight talked to a parent this week who didn’t understand why students went to school on time.

But she said superintendents also aren’t used to having to decide every week whether it is too cold for kids to come to school.

“This has been a whole different winter,” she said.

So far this winter, local school districts have canceled school from five to seven times and have postponed the start of school from five to 12 times. Most school districts have received a waiver from the Indiana Department of Education to not make up two of the canceled days, and superintendents are finding the best way to make up the rest.

Earlier this week, the state told school officials they could make up missed days by extending the school day or using online courses. Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray has asked parents on social media how they felt about extending the school day by 40 minutes for several weeks to make up three of the days missed.

Right now, Clark-Pleasant students, including seniors, would have to attend school in June, even though commencement is scheduled for the end of May. School officials are trying to find a way to make up the cancellations without impacting graduation.

Center Grove schools sent a survey to parents and employees on Thursday asking how they’d feel about extending the school day by 20 minutes through the end of the school year to compensate for the time lost. A decision about that could come at next week’s school board meeting, spokeswoman Stacy Conrad said.

Greenwood has enough snow days built into its calendar to cover all of the cancellations so far, but DeKoninck said he wants to review the options offered by the state in case any more cold spells or snowstorms come through this winter.

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