By Denise Dick
With wind chills expected to dip well below zero early this week, the prospect for an extra vacation day for school students looks likely.
Besides snow and the safety conditions of cars and buses traversing the roads to get children to school, Mahoning Valley school superintendents say they also consider temperatures in determining whether to cancel school.
“If the wind chill is 15 below, 10 below, we’re probably going to shut it down,” said Youngstown Superintendent Connie Hathorn.
Like most Mahoning County schools, classes in the city are set to resume today after the holiday break.
But forecasts from the National Weather Service in Cleveland predict a cold front moving into the Valley today with a morning high around 17 degrees that will fall to about 7 degrees in the afternoon with a wind chill of about 16 below. Total snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches is expected.
Tonight, it’ll be cloudy with a 50 percent chance of snow showers in addition to blowing snow. Lows are expected to be around 12 below. With gusts up to 30 mph, the wind chill could be as low as 35 below.
Tuesday’s high is expected to be about 2 above.
A wind-chill warning is in effect from noon today until 9 a.m. Wednesday.
It’s not fair to ask students to walk to school or wait at the bus stop in such cold weather, Hathorn said.
“It affects your attendance rate, too,” he said. “If it’s that cold, kids aren’t going to come to school.”
Unlike the rest of the county, classes in Austintown and Springfield school resumed last week but were canceled Friday because of snow and cold.
Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca said normally a wind chill of about 10 to 15 below zero would trigger school cancellation as there are concerns about students who walk to school and those waiting at bus stops.
But the county superintendents usually communicate by phone, email and text to try to decide collaboratively what to do.
“It’s also very important that kids are in school to learn,” Colaluca said.
Austintown Elementary students returned to the building last week to find it colder than what they were used to. The temperature is regulated by computer, and it didn’t kick on the heat until an hour later than it was scheduled. The building temperatures go down at night to save energy and are supposed to kick back up about 5:30 a.m. so the buildings are warm for the return of students.
The heat wasn’t turned back up until about 6:30 a.m., and it takes about two hours for the entire building to heat back up, he said. Some children were wearing their coats in class during the early part of the day. Colaluca said the problem was fixed the same day.
All the students are bused in Springfield school except for seven who live very close to the school buildings, said Superintendent Debra Mettee. But many of them have long walks to the bus stop.
Generally, a wind chill of 15 degrees below zero would prompt her to cancel school, she said.
If the temperature is supposed to be frigid early but rise as the morning continues, though, a two-hour delay may be called instead.
In Trumbull County, Warren City Schools were set to resume last Thursday, but classes were canceled both Thursday and Friday because of the weather.
Warren Superintendent Michael Notar said that county’s schools are divided into groups based on geography; officials talk and decide whether to cancel school based on snow or other weather conditions. Other schools in Warren’s group are Lordstown, Howland, Newton Falls and LaBrae.
Other Trumbull County schools aren’t set to return from the holiday break until this week.
There could be instances, however, when Warren would opt for a decision other than that of the others in the group.
“I look to the local meteorologists and hope they get it correct,” he said.
Generally, a wind chill of minus 10 degrees would lead Notar to cancel school, he said.
“We have over 1,000 walkers to school,” Notar said. “We have to take that into consideration.”
State law allows schools to use up to five calamity days — days when school is canceled for weather or other emergencies — without having to make up those days.
“I’m a firm believer in safety first for the kids,” Notar said. “I’d rather play it safe and call off school. If that’s the best decision for the kids, we can make them up.”