Too cool for school?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

As the temperature rockets downward this winter, thousands of families must be wondering: How cold is too cold for school?

There's no simple equation to calling off classes during the winter. Few local school districts abide by clear-cut guidelines. Many rely on a host of factors in deciding whether to close their doors, including snow and ice accumulation, wind chill, road and sidewalk conditions and decisions by neighboring school districts.

That's the way the Columbus school district, the state's largest, makes its decision, spokesman Jeff Warner said. Superintendent Gene Harris generally decides whether to call off school based on the potential impact of the wind chill on students' safety, Warner said. If there's a chance the temperature will delay school buses or the drivers, leaving students waiting at bus stops for too long, that could mean closed schools, he said.

Officials for several other districts said they start weighing what to do when the wind chill drops to at least

15 degrees below zero. "As it starts to approach that number, certainly the superintendent and the operations folks are in very close contact about what the conditions are outside," said Jennifer Ruhe, spokeswoman for the Delaware school district. "Any time we feel the conditions are unsafe, we're not going to put students at risk," Ruhe said.

Ohio law allows districts to cancel up to five days each school year without having to make them up, but many central Ohio districts are close to the limit because of September's windstorm. School officials say they often can't decide whether to call off in the winter until the early morning.

Whenever inclement weather is in the forecast, Licking Heights Superintendent Thomas S. Tucker and two other administrators drive the roads about 4:30 a.m., he said. About 85 percent of Licking Heights students ride the bus, but Tucker said he doesn't want children waiting when the wind chill is in the negative teens. "It's not a decision we make from our beds," Tucker said.

Groveport Madison, meanwhile, follows a more-specific policy: Administrators cancel school when temperatures drop to zero or wind chills fall to 10 degrees below or lower between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., spokeswoman Chris Bowser said.

Bexley schools, where nearly all students walk, might close if the wind chill falls to 22 below zero-a level at which the National Weather Service says frostbite can occur if skin is exposed for 30 minutes.

Reynoldsburg schools take a similar approach. "It's a calculated guess," said Ron Strussion, the district's business manager. "It's the best you can do using all the resources you can tap."