School districts under fire for staying open amid snowstorm

  • A worker clears a path at Metea Valley High School as snow continues to fall Wednesday. Indian Prairie Unit District 204 schools remained open despite areas in Naperville and Aurora receiving 6 to 8 inches of snow by the afternoon.

      A worker clears a path at Metea Valley High School as snow continues to fall Wednesday. Indian Prairie Unit District 204 schools remained open despite areas in Naperville and Aurora receiving 6 to 8 inches of snow by the afternoon. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/2/2022 5:37 PM

As the Western and Southern suburbs continued to dig out from under Wednesday's snowstorm, several school districts came under fire from parents and students for remaining open.

Two of the area's larger districts hit hardest by the snow -- Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 -- remained open, as did Elgin Area School District U-46, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 and Lisle Unit District 202.

 

Other Western suburban districts, such as Glenbard High School District 87, Downers Grove High School District 99, Hinsdale High School District 86 and DuPage High School District 88, either closed schools or shifted to e-learning in anticipation of the difficulty for employees and students to reach school.

When District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges tweeted early Wednesday morning that Naperville schools would be open, the responses were swift and angry. Even a fake Twitter account attached to Bridges was created.

District 204 tweeted a message early Wednesday morning, advising student drivers to be safe during their commute, that was met by hundreds of responses, many including a #firetalley hashtag to show disapproval for Superintendent Adrian Talley's decision.

District 203 parent Stephanie Raquel, who has a second grader, an eighth grader and a junior at Naperville North High School, chose to put her two younger children on the bus but kept her older daughter at home because she didn't want the inexperienced driver on the road under the wintry conditions.

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She was among many parents questioning the decision to stay open.

"This is why we have e-learning," she said. "This would have been a perfect day for e-learning. We've got a crop of student drivers who had to learn how to drive when the DMV was closed for months on end, so I kept mine home. But then, I've got younger kids who can't afford to miss an instructional day."

By 11 a.m. Wednesday, areas of Naperville had received 6 to 8 inches of snow. Downers Grove and Glen Ellyn also reported accumulations of more than 5 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Bridges sent a follow-up message to families on Wednesday detailing his decision to keep schools open. Around 4:45 a.m., he said, conditions indicated commuting might be slow but a typical school day could still occur. He also said he was in contact with district and city officials to determine the feasibility of opening.

"Unfortunately," he said later, "the conditions changed quicker than anticipated."

Talley sent a similar message to families early Wednesday afternoon, saying the decision to stay open was made based on road conditions, adding that he and other staff members drove throughout the area to assess roadways. He also consulted with the district's transportation provider, custodial staff and other district superintendents to determine whether to stay open.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bridges and Talley said Wednesday any absences will be considered excused and all after-school athletics and activities were canceled.

District 203 parent Jamie Gordon Mariotti kept her Washington Junior High student at home Wednesday. She looked outside early Wednesday morning, saw the streets weren't plowed and decided not to send her daughter to the bus stop.

"She rarely misses school, but I decided we're not doing this today," Gordon Mariotti said. "It's just not worth it. Who knows how long the snow's going to last. Who knows if she'll be able to get home. I know the district was in a tough position with the decision, but it's tricky."

Glenbard High School District 87 called off in-person classes and switched to remote learning Wednesday.

"We felt the commute was going to be challenging," said Superintendent David Larson, noting that some students drive themselves to school. "We just felt it was in our best interest, safest for our students and families, to make the call."

State law allows school districts to use up to five e-learning days yearly instead of emergency days, which must be made up before the end of the school year. Students must receive at least five hours of e-learning instruction or schoolwork. Regional offices of education must first sign off on a district's e-learning plan.

"All of the procedural requirements that a district must follow to establish and maintain an e-learning program are in effect this school year," Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said. "Specifically, before a school board adopts a new policy for e-learning or renews an existing policy, it must hold a public hearing at a regular or special board meeting where the public will have an opportunity to comment."

The regional office of education must verify the plan provides access for all students by Sept. 1 of each year.

Matthews said an e-learning program adopted in accordance with the procedural requirements is valid for three years. However, pandemic-related remote learning cannot be used for snow days.

U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders, who kept schools open in the state's second-largest district, said the district does not have an approved e-learning plan, "so we have no option to go remote."

"Anytime there is snow or inclement weather expected, I monitor three primary areas: road conditions (ability of buses to get kids safely), plant operations (can we have buildings and walkways ready), and staffing," he said.

Other Northwest suburban districts such as Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 also remained open on Wednesday. Director of Communications Erin Holmes said closing decisions are made after discussions with the two feeder districts the morning of, and sometimes the afternoon before, anticipated heavy snowfalls.

In the Glenbard school system, e-learning days replace the traditional snow days of years past. Students work on district-issued iPads, and they can access virtual office hours with teachers for more support.

"The context is different now because of e-learning," Larson said. "The infrastructure and the training and the hardware/software for e-learning is in place for teachers and students."

Larson expects schools will be back open Thursday.

"Our crews have been working throughout the day, and we feel confident our driveways and parking lots will be cleared and be safe," he said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Madhu Krishnamurthy, Eric Peterson and Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.

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