'Emergency days' becoming school days after Monday closures

 
 
Updated 2/3/2015 12:41 PM
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  • Social media alerted many suburban students to widespread closures Monday in districts such as Geneva Unit District 304 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 because of snow and cold.

      Social media alerted many suburban students to widespread closures Monday in districts such as Geneva Unit District 304 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 because of snow and cold. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct an error in the last day of school for Elgin Area District U-46. The last day is scheduled to be Monday, June 1.

So-called "emergency days" at the end of yearly calendars now will be school days in many districts across the region after Sunday's blizzard sparked another round of widespread closings.

Hundreds of schools were closed Monday after 19.3 inches of snow fell Sunday at O'Hare.

"The closure wasn't controversial -- it was the fifth-largest snowstorm in (Chicago) history," Michelle Fregoso, spokeswoman for Naperville Unit District 203, said Monday. "The main thing this morning was just student safety. Are the streets going to be plowed in time? The snow just hammered us for so long."

Districts that closed to prevent hazards like student drivers traversing slippery streets or students walking to school through heavy snow said they planned ahead for this possibility. Many districts build "emergency days" into their calendars after the scheduled end of the school year. In a perfect-weather world, the emergency days won't be needed. But when snow and cold strike, the days can be added one by one to counteract any time when school is canceled.

"Our school year will be extended for every day that we use an emergency day," said Shannon Mortimer, communications specialist in Elgin Area District U-46.

Monday's closure was the fourth for U-46, which now plans to end the school year on Monday, June 1. It was the third closure for many districts, including Naperville 203, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, West Chicago Elementary District 33 and Round Lake District 116.

The closures canceled some special class activities -- like a seventh-grade Ellis Island immigration simulation at Leman Middle School in West Chicago -- and after-school clubs, practices and information nights across the area. U-46 canceled a school board meeting Monday night, while Round Lake District 116 will have to reschedule a high school course selection night at one of its middle schools.

"All of the rescheduling hassles aside, the decision to close school is made with one primary consideration -- the safety of our students and staff," said Heather Bennett, District 116 spokeswoman.

Social media spread the word of Monday's closure when it was announced at 7:34 p.m. Sunday for all schools in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, which covers portions of Naperville, Aurora, Plainfield and Bolingbrook.

The post drew an immediate response when it went out from the district's Twitter handle, @ipsd204.

"Within one minute, there were 575 retweets," school board President Lori Price said Monday about the post, which by Monday afternoon had been retweeted 1,247 times and marked as a "favorite" 791 times. "That just amazes me. Our parents are so in tune with that, and our kids, especially."

Technology will help students in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 stay on top of classwork even while missing the second day of the year because of weather conditions, Media Manager Jennifer Delgado said.

"A majority of our students have district-issued iPads that allow them to continue learning -- virtually," Delgado said. "Through the iPads, our teachers are able to upload digital lessons, hold online discussions and keep students up to date on assignments and curriculum."

District 214 won't be adding any extra days to the end of the school year, but the third closure Monday in District 204 means students are now scheduled to be in class until Monday, June 8, instead of Wednesday, June 3.

Spokeswoman Janet Buglio said the school board will approve an adjusted calendar once the weather improves and educators can be fairly certain no more weather-related closures will be necessary.

The same is true in West Chicago District 33, where spokeswoman Gina Steinbrecher said administrators have not yet decided whether an extra day will be added to make up for time lost Monday.

School officials said they were hoping to have class as usual today, giving maintenance workers one more day to clear parking lots and paths.

"We have a great crew to clear the snow, but with 13 buildings to maintain, they were not able to keep up," District 116's Bennett said. "Having (Monday) to work on this process was extremely helpful. Due to their hard work throughout the weekend, (Sunday) night and into (Monday), we expect to open schools again with little disruption."

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