We are planning to include a weather closing policy in our parent/student handbook for next fall. In the meantime, this will help you understand what goes into the decision to close or not to close, depending on the circumstances.
The decision about whether or not to close school is never easy. There are multiple considerations involved, the most important one being the safety of our students and family members who must drive them. We have academic standards to achieve, so there must be enough time in school to do so. Parents who work must find child care. If we open, will all of the staff be able to get there to supervise the students who come? Will the parking lot be cleared of snow? There’s a lot that goes into the decision to close school for the day. But we do have a plan and a procedure in place for making this decision.
How The Decision is Made
Streets usually get cleared pretty quickly after an overnight snowfall. If there’s anything unusual, like a prediction of a major snowfall, or a forecast that includes ice, freezing rain or sleet, we consider making a decision about school by around 10:30. Otherwise, I get up at 5:00a.m., check the forecast again, and call the police precinct on Pulaski to ask about street conditions. I tell them who I am and why I am calling and they tell me what they know. After checking the list to see if any schools in our area have closed, and looking at the radar, the final decision about school is made.
On the 24th, the precinct officer told me that the snow was coming down fast and the plows weren’t keeping up with it. The schools that had closed were in a line from Niles, right through our neighborhood, to Midway. A text message from a staff member who lives near the school confirmed the decision a little after 5:00 a.m. Both of the private schools in our area that I monitor for weather-related closing were on E-learning last week due to the pandemic, but several others around us had closed.
We planned for the possibility of missing classes due to the pandemic, so we are well ahead of where we need to be with regard to class time.
So generally, here is an updated version of the procedure and policy for closing school due to weather:
- School will be closed if there is a forecasted sustained wind chill of -30 F or colder, or when the actual temperature is a sustained -15 F or colder between the travel times of 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and/or 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
- For snow, ice, or other weather-related closings, MCA will monitor current conditions, the forecasted conditions between the travel times listed above, the ability of our staff to clear the parking lot and sidewalks, and the ability of the local municipality to plow streets and make them safe and passable are all factors in making a decision to close school.
- If school is to be closed, MCA will make the notification by 5:30 a.m. the day of the closing, knowing that you need to make arrangements for child care or other schedule changes. If we are able to make the determination the night before to close school–meaning the forecast undoubtably warrants the closure–we will attempt to notify you between 6:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
- Parents will be notified via the Gradelink message system which sends both a text and an email to parents. Please make sure the phone numbers and emails we have in the system for you are correct and up to date.
- We will also place a notification on WGN’s Emergency Closing website, which informs the major television stations. https://www.emergencyclosingcenter.com/
- When school is closed due to inclement weather, all extracurricular programs and school meetings (except for board meetings) are cancelled.
- The Illinois School Code allows parents to call their children out of school as excused in the event that the school remains open during a weather event if you, as a family, have concerns about your child traveling safely to and from school. However, E-learning will not be available if you choose to remain at home.
E-Learning or Online Learning on Snow/Bad Weather Days
MCA’s calendar planning includes additional instructional time beyond what is required by the ISBE in order to compensate for unexpected closures due to weather or illness. Under our accreditation requirements, the amount of time students can spend in online learning is limited. Because of these limitations, and the turn-around time required to adequately prepare for online instruction, we will not schedule E-learning for snow/bad weather days unless we have used all of our reserve educational time. We will keep E-learning days for reserved for extended days off due to pandemic illness.
Safety is a Priority
Weather forecasts are not always accurate. We’ve been caught by surprise more than once when a heavy snowfall tangled the traffic, made for slick conditions and got ahead of the snowplows. And I have had the experience of cancelling classes in advance of a forecasted heavy snowstorm, when just a couple of inches fell and it was done before the sun came up. Chicagoans are used to snow and bad winter weather and driving in it, but that doesn’t mean we take the safety of our students for granted. And what someone may consider to be “safe,” others may consider to be dangerous.
A friend of mine who is superintendent of a large, public school district in very snowy Northwest Indiana says that this is something at which the person who has to make the call to close school can’t win. Regardless of the decision you make, someone will question it, and someone will get angry with your for making it.
As I was looking at the list of schools which did close last Friday, I noticed that one of them was a Catholic school called, “Our Lady of the Snows.” I had to laugh at that.