Talk about high-stakes tests.
Superintendents who made the call on whether to cancel school today based on forecasts of dangerously cold wind chill had one more thing to worry about: Students scheduled to take Regents exams this week will not be able to make up missed tests until June.
Add in the fact that some school districts have already used up all of the extra school days they budgeted, and the decision to call a snow day gets even more complicated.
“We got spoiled by the past few mild winters where you might have a day here or a day there,” said Lake Shore Superintendent James Przepasniak. “Not like this year.”
The state does not allow school districts to administer makeup Regents exams, so students in high schools that close because of weather this week will have to wait until those exams are given again later in the school year. In most cases, that will be June.
That could be tough for some students on the cusp who would have two chances to pass an exam required for graduation if they took the test this week, said Paul Hashem, interim superintendent of Frontier Central School District.
“Even if the exam is given again in June, they’ve got one shot, instead of two more shots,” Hashem said.
In Buffalo, where high school students use Metro Rail and city buses to get to school, the district canceled classes today for all students but those high school students taking Regents exams. For other schools, where the districts run tightly scheduled bus routes, the decision was more complicated.
Eden Central School District, which canceled classes Monday when some students were scheduled to take Comprehensive English and Living Environment exams, had closed its schools six days because of weather as of Monday. The school district began its year with five extra student instructional days built into the schedule. To make up the difference, it will now require students to come to school for half days on Feb. 14 and March 21 – days that had been scheduled for staff development.
“Twice in its history has Eden had seven snow days,” said Eden Superintendent Sandy Anzalone. “So we’re reaching the top. It’s a terrible decision.”
Lake Shore, which had used five snow days as of Monday, has also begun adding student class days back into its schedule to meet state requirements for the number of hours a district must hold classes in a school year. Students will have regular class schedules on Jan. 31, March 13 and March 14. Those days had been scheduled for staff development and parent-teacher conferences.
Several superintendents said the mix of bitterly cold days, a blizzard and snowfall that some districts have encountered this year is among the worst of their careers. That is the case for Hashem, who worked for 40 years in Lackawanna City School District before serving in interim administrative positions in Springville, Grand Island and Frontier.
“In all the experiences I’ve had, I have never had this kind of weather,” Hashem said.
School administrators on Monday were carefully watching weather forecasts from the National Weather Service that warned of wind chill Tuesday morning as low as minus 25 – conditions that can put children at risk for frostbite or hypothermia if they are outside too long without proper clothing.
“Children, if they’re walking to school or are waiting outside for a bus, are particularly vulnerable because their smaller bodies are actually a little bit more vulnerable to the effects of wind chill,” said Dr. Steven Lana, a pediatrician and the medical director for Buffalo Public Schools.
Lana tells parents to ensure their children dress warmly with boots, gloves and a hat. He also advises parents that they can use Vaseline to protect exposed skin on their child’s face.
“They should have layers on,” Lana said. “A lot of kids walk to school in sneakers, and sneakers are not really protective of their feet. So they should have warm boots. They should have warm mittens or gloves. They should have hats.”
Closing a school because of snow can be tricky because of different terrain throughout a district. But closing a school district because of cold can be an even tougher call. Earlier this month, many schools closed based on forecasts of cold temperatures on a day that turned out to be sunny and cold, but did not see deep wind chill below zero.
Some saw the decisions to close that day as a mistake.
School administrators throughout the region have been talking in recent weeks about what thresholds they use to determine if cold weather should close a school. Several said they will look at sustained wind chill of minus 20 or more.
“Frankly, it is a very difficult decision,” Hashem said. “Because we all feel the same way. Safety of students, safety of staff are paramount.”