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Closing school a ‘difficult’ decision

‘Blizzard bags’ will be used by some Clark districts on next calamity day.

Every school district in Clark and Champaign County closed Wednesday, with four local school districts using their last allotted calamity day after 6 to 8 inches of snow fell.

Clark-Shawnee, Tecumseh, Southeastern and Northwestern schools used their fifth calamity or “snow” day Wednesday. State law allows for five cancellations before schools have to make up days or use “blizzard bags” — school work that is online or sent home in packets to be completed to make up the day.

Brian Kuhn, assistant superintendent, makes the call about whether to close school at Clark-Shawnee.

“I just remember being a teacher and thinking ‘Man, it’d be fun to make that decision,’” he said. “No, it’s not.”

Local superintendents say they don’t take into account how many days the district has used when deciding whether to close school — instead they drive the roads, talk to one another and reach a decision based on student safety.

“It’s a difficult decision because I know a lot of people count on us having school,” said Springfield Superintendent David Estrop. “On the other hand, we do not want to have our students be endangered.”

Springfield closed Wednesday for the first time this year.

As one of the largest districts in the state at 118 square miles, Northeastern Local School has closed five times this year. Superintendent Lou Kramer and the district’s transportation director drives the road early morning to determine if buses and vehicles can safely make the trek to school.

Some days, the more densely-populated Kenton Ridge area roads look better than other areas of the districts.

“Main roads (could be) very clear, but the back roads of our district, and that would mainly be the Northeastern attendance area, were pretty treacherous,” he said.

Kramer said he starts driving the roads at 4:30 a.m. Most districts have to decide to close or delay before 6 a.m., when the first buses start prepping for the day.

Estrop said he tries to make the decision before 5:30 a.m., to give working parents time to find childcare. He takes into consideration road and walkway conditions, temperatures for students walking or waiting for the bus and whether buildings are operating correctly.

If a parent disagrees with his call, he encourages them to make their own decisions about what’s best.

“We respect your right, on these very bad weather days, if we’re having schools and you don’t agree with my calls, please exercise your right to keep your child at home,” he said. “There’s no penalty, no punishment for that. We trust our parents to make the best judgment for their children and their families.”

Districts also consult one another while making the call. Roads in the city are often in a different condition from county roads, but Estrop talks to Tecumseh Superintendent Brad Martin on bad weather days about what he’s seeing. The traditional districts decisions can affect private and parochial schools and the county career tech school.

Kramer said he talks to superintendents of adjacent and nearby districts when making his decision.

“We do take into account, certainly we talk with different perspectives with adjacent districts or other districts,” he said. “We have a district of 118 square miles so sometimes this could be a very local decision.”

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