More cold weather may close schools

WARREN – Area school superintendents are keeping their eyes to the skies in the anticipation of more inclement weather.

As temperatures plummeted below zero in North Dakota and northern Minnesota on Monday, another band of arctic air made its way across the northern United States. It is bringing with it a wave of cooler temperatures which is expected to linger for most of the week, dipping to -3 tonight.

While not as severe as the chill earlier this month that included a Jan. 6 record low of -12 and closed schools and businesses, it’s still plenty cold. Warren City Schools have already used all five of its allotted calamity days, but they are prepared to use more if need be, Superintendent Michael Notar said.

“Regardless of the (number of calamity) days, I don’t sit there and contemplate. It comes down to the safety of the kids,” he said.

All the schools in Trumbull County are broken into regions, and Warren frequently communicates with others in its region including Niles, Howland and LaBrae schools, he said.

“Niles and I talk a lot because they have a lot of walkers just like us. When it starts to get down to single digits we start thinking about wind chill,” he said. When the wind chill approaches -10, that’s when they look at shutting down, Notar said.

Communication with the maintenance crews is also a key factor in determining school closings.

“They’ll go out about 2 (a.m.) and start plowing the parking lots and the sidewalks,” he said.

Then, depending on the maintenance supervisor’s report of road and sidewalk conditions, Notar will make a decision.

Sometimes the roads are clear while the sidewalks pose a hazard from the snow and ice.

“I don’t want the kids walking in the streets,” he said.

Notar said his region is a little different than others in Trumbull County because of the high number of walkers they have.

“If I go outside and I can’t imagine walking a mile (in the weather), then I don’t want the kids doing that,” he said.

Liberty Schools Superintendent Stan Watson said his district has used two of its five calamity days, and he and other superintendents in his region also will be contemplating the situation as the colder weather takes hold.

“We try to discuss that together and see what other people are thinking, use their resources to see what road conditions are like,” he said.

Different superintendents have different factors to consider, he said, such as students who travel longer distances on buses, but their decisions are made independent of one another.

“We do spend a little bit of time discussing it and using the experience and information that each district has,” he said.

Watson said the timing of the weather has a big effect on his decision of whether to close or start school late.

“If it comes very late at night or early morning and crews don’t have an opportunity to clear roads or parking lots in time, we might be off or have a delayed start,” he said.

Other times, the snow just keeps coming and coming and crews simply can’t keep up with it.

Sometimes a small amount of ice or extremely cold temperatures present even more danger to students than a lot of snow, he said.

“You don’t have to have any snow at all, when wind chill gets to a very dangerous part. We have a number of students who walk to school,” he said. And for those who ride the bus, “We wouldn’t want students to be standing outside in those cold temperatures.”

Brookfield Schools has used four calamity days, three due to weather and one because of a power outage.

Brookfield Superintendent Tim Saxton said he takes into consideration not only actions taken by districts in his region, but also those of bordering school districts in Pennsylvania.

“They typically only use two-hour delays. They very rarely close, so we look at that,” he said. “There’s no perfect geographical set point; it’s a lot of communication between superintendents and their staff, as well.”

Saxton also said he maintains communication with emergency personnel such as police, fire and EMS to determine the extent of the situation.

“I look at everything. We look at forecasts for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours,” he said.

In terms of temperature, he watches for the National Weather Service to issue advisories or warnings to see how the wind chill is playing out, he said.

“When it gets down to -10 to -15, that’s a real problem, even as low as -9 to -5. Once that comes into play, then that concern starts to mount,” he said.

Watson said the number of calamity days the district uses is not the primary consideration in his decision, but rather what’s best for the welfare of the students.

“We always add makeup days at the end of the year,” Notar said, which is May 30. The five calamity days extend the school year to June 4, and they will go beyond that if that’s what it takes, he said.

“We’ll be watching it and we’ll see what happens,” Saxton said.

The cold front is expected to move south into Iowa and as far east as Maine by tonight, and last through Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.