Area school districts are keeping a watchful eye on Old Man Winter’s next move, trying to determine whether they will need to close schools today.
It will all depend on just how low the thermometer and wind chill factor dip.
Some schools already were taking pro-active moves today, as Buffalo Public schools, Amherst Central schools, Eden and many other districts around the region canceled all afterschool and evening activities due to the cold.
Some schools that announced closings for today included West Seneca Central, St. Mary’s in Swormville, Salamanca City Schools, Randolph Central and King Center Charter School.
On New Year’s night, many school superintendents already were beginning to informally chat about what they may face this week, as most students returned to school Thursday after their holiday recess.
“Some districts have already used weather days, but if you have a bad day, you have to make a decision. We haven’t had extreme cold weather in a couple of years,” said Donald A. Ogilvie, district superintendent of Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services comprised by 19 districts north of Frontier and Hamburg. “It’s still up in the air.”
Ogilvie said he reached out via e-mail to school chiefs Wednesday evening and sent along wind chill charts commonly used by superintendents to evaluate conditions to help them determine whether to open or close school. “Everyone’s tension is beginning to focus on the cold,” he said. “It may well be that we have school, but I think everyone is very mindful of the cold weather.”
Ogilvie said exposure in 25 degrees below or more in wind chill factor is definite cause for concern. “There are no specific requirements [to close], but the National Weather Service and county Health Department have said when wind chills reach below 25 degress, it becomes potentially harmful, particularly to young people or older,” he said. “It is left to each district to make a decision based on the percentage who walk and have to spend significant time at a bus stop.”
What materializes this afternoon into the evening – and into today – is on school officials’ radar screen. Early Thursday morning, it was already being talked about in the halls at Frontier Central schools. “It’s too soon to call. We’ll make a decision late tonight or early in the morning” on Friday, said Interim Superintendent Paul Hashem. “It is a possibility, but it looks like the cold will be short-term.”
Hashem said wind chill charts will be reviewed closely. “This is based on meteorological guesstimates, and we’ll make a decision when the reality hits the road,” he said.
Lancaster Schools Superintendent Michael J. Vallely was dealing with the issue early into his first day back after the holidays, as well. “There are 200 variables,” he quipped, noting that temperature as well as the winds and wind chill factor all come into play when superintendents weigh such decisions. “We don’t make decisions in isolation. We call other superintendents.”
Vallely said he’ll likely be chatting with some of his counterparts at other districts by 4:30 a.m. today. “It’ll be one of those days,” he said, noting that his cutoff to make a decision to close Lancaster schools occurs no later than 5:30 a.m.
“I’ll be out there licking my thumb [in the cold], checking the winds and holding my [wind chill] chart in my other hand,” Vallely quipped. “I don’t have a crystal ball. We’re on it, and monitoring it. We’re not thinking about closing, but are thinking about keeping the kids safe.”