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Old man winter wreaks havoc on school attendance

Posted on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 10:10 am

Postmaster Bill Haugen shovels snow and ice away from the entrance of the Elsberry Post Office after last week's snowfall.

Postmaster Bill Haugen shovels snow and ice away from the entrance of the Elsberry Post Office after last week’s snowfall.

The recent snowfall and rapid drop in temperature had many children in the Elsberry area hoping for an extended Christmas Break.

That’s all well and good for those whose only concern is whether or not they’ll get to stay home playing video games and watching television for a few more days.

It can be much more complicated, however, for those tasked with making decisions regarding school cancellation during periods of extreme weather.

“There’s not a formal policy in place as far as the temperature goes,” said Elsberry Superintendent Tim Reller. “The main concern is the safety of the kids at the bus stop, but any time we cancel school it’s based on what’s in the best interest of the kids.”

That’s not always easy since what’s in the best interest of kids living within the city limits is often different from that of students who reside several miles outside of town.

“Situations always vary,” said Reller. “We have a large district in terms of area so we can have different conditions in different parts of the district, but we try to make a decision based on what’s in the best interest of the majority of our students.”

Although it’s common for school to be cancelled due to snow and ice, Reller said it’s been some time since Elsberry cancelled school due to low temperatures alone.

In fact, he can’t remember it ever happening during his tenure.

On the rare occasions that school is cancelled because of the cold, the district typically tries to give people as much advance notice as possible.

“We always try to make the decision as early as possible,” said Reller. “The latest we can make a decision and get everything in place is 6:00 a.m. I’m usually out driving early in the morning and communicating with other superintendents. We all work together and bounce ideas off each other so we can stay on the same page as much as possible.”

Reller said being consistent with other schools isn’t always easy because conditions can be very different from one district to another.

In those cases where school is still in session despite extreme weather patterns, alternative arrangements are made to compensate for the lack of outdoor recess.

“Even if they don’t have outdoor recess they’ll still have an activity inside or in the classroom,” said Reller.

Right now the elementary playground is snow-covered so children won’t be sent outside for recess regardless of the temperature.

“We can remove snow from the asphalt, but the area where the swings are has a rubberized base,” said Reller. “We don’t worry about plowing that, we just let it melt.”

Just like there is no official policy regarding school cancellation due to cold temperatures, there are also no specific guidelines in terms of when it is safe to send students outside for recess and other activities.

Instead, classroom teachers are allowed to use their own judgment.

Those decisions are not difficult as long as parents keep sending their children to school dressed appropriately for winter weather.

Reller said when push comes to shove he trusts parents to make the right decisions regarding the health and safety of their children.

“It’s ultimately the decision of the parents,” said Reller. “If conditions are not safe in their area or on their road, as parents they have to make the decision that’s best for them and their situation.”