Each Winter, usually in February or March we create and set the school calendar for the upcoming school year. Each calendar must have 174 student attendance days and 180 teacher work days and an additional 5 emergency days built into the calendar. Typically, you would see those emergency days built in on the last five days of the calendar and as we use emergency days we change those calendar dates to attendance days, extending the school year for each "snow day "we use. At the point that the district uses all the emergency days the new calendar would show that students would be dismissed 5 days later than expected. Also, after the 5 emergency days are used the district can begin requesting "ACT OF GOD" days. If Act of God days are approved students are not required to attend any longer than the original 5 emergency days and the School District's General State Aid is not reduced.
Back to the Calendar, we have used zero emergency days at this point in the year, so our expected last day for student attendance, at this time, is May 19, 2023. We are planning on holding High School Graduation on May 26, 2023. With winter weather on our doorstep it is possible we will utilize one or more emergency days this year, which in turn will push the last day of attendance back by each emergency day used.
Ok, now the decision making process we use to close school because of weather related issues. I guess I would start by saying there is no set guideline or policy that the PORTA District follows. I will say that at-20 degrees wind chill I am very concerned about the safety of our students, especially when I see our youngest students on a daily basis showing up to school with only a hoodie on or lite jacket. So, when we hit those marks of -20 degrees or above you can expect that we may cancel school. Most often snow and unsafe roads are the main issue. The process I use to determine if we have school begins with me driving many of our bus routes and worst roads to determine safety. Sometimes it only takes me a matter of minutes to make a determination, others an hour or more. During my driving time I usually talk with all the local Superintendents, road commissioners and County Commissioner. All of the driving and discussion takes place prior to 5:30 AM because as a rule I like to make the decision by that time and get parents notified. Of course, depending on the timing of the weather we may make that decision earlier or slightly later, but not much later. If the weather on the previous evening indicates that we will likely close due to poor road conditions, poor timing of snow fall, and/or that we will have difficulty clearing our lots and sidewalks we will try our best to make that decision the night prior. One aspect to school closures that I have only recently had to contemplate is insuring staff can make it to school and if they cannot will be have enough subs to cover classrooms. With the shortage of subs in the State of Illinois we have to be cognizant of how many subs we have available to insure classroom coverage, if we foresee a shortfall that will also be a factor in making a decision to close school.
Once the decision is made to cancel school I create a SchoolMessanger call, notify all supervisors and each of those individuals have a specific task to complete as well, some of which might be calling radio and television or starting a phone tree. We have to consider what events are occurring and when, how we can reschedule those events and how much time and manpower it will take to make the parking lots and sidewalks safe before we allow anyone in the buildings.
Closing school because of extreme weather is a matter that we take very seriously. In the end we want to balance the need to have the students in class with there overall safety and well-being. Attending a few extra days at the end of the school year is much easier than having students placed in danger in a bus accident or getting frost-bite while walking to school or waiting for a bus.
Thanks for taking the time to read this piece.