It’s still cold

Frigid temperatures this week closed hundreds of schools across the Chicago area. From Highland Park to Hinsdale to Homer Glen, students stayed home when dangerous wind chill temperatures swept across the Illinois prairie.

But not in Homewood and Flossmoor.

Students in Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Homewood District 153 and Flossmoor District 161 were the exception, rather than the rule, during 2015’s first cold snap. So much so that a Chicago TV news crew visited Flossmoor Tuesday to see how students were surviving the bitter temperatures.

“I hate to make a pun,” said District 153 Superintendent Dale Mitchell. “But it looks like a situation that snowballed out of control.”

Mitchell, who made the decision Tuesday not to close his buildings the next day, said he was surprised when he realized how many schools in and around Chicago were shutting down on Wednesday.

“It’s January, the temperatures are a couple of degrees below zero and there is a wind,” he said. “I don’t think that is enough reason to close the schools.”

Homewood’s schools were closed by bad weather exactly one year ago, Mitchell added.
“But that was significantly different,” he said. “It was very cold but there was also a lot of snow and the roads were treacherous. This week, the roads are clear and no one is having problems driving.”

Mitchell said he consults with his counterparts at HF High School and District 161 to see if they plan to close the schools.

 “But the decision was up to me. There are times when one of us will close schools and the others will keep them open.” The high school has a reputation for never closing, he said. “The snow has to be above the flagpole before it closes.”

Mitchell said you cannot compare grade school and high school students.

“We have some students who are very small,” he said. “We know we always have to do what is best for them.”

Mitchell said his teachers and staff showed their mettle on Tuesday and Wednesday — turnouts were higher than usual, even for good weather days. Student attendance was 80 to 90 percent. Parents appear to be mostly supportive, he said.

“They are where they are supposed to be,” he said of the students. “This is where they belong.” 
Jodi Bryant, the high school’s  director of human resources and public relations, said more than 60 percent of students attended HF on Wednesdayand  75 percent on Thursday, with nearly 100 percent of the staff on campus both days.

“We are running 20 shuttle buses between buildings and will continue with that through the duration of the extreme weather,” she said.”We are encouraging all students to dress warmly, cover exposed skin, wear boots or thick​-soled shoes and utilize the shuttle buses between buildings.”

Bryant said student and staff safety was the number one concern when faced with the decision of whether or not to close the school. She said many variables were considered, including  temperature, wind chill, the amount of snowfall, time of snowfall, road conditions, feedback from the bus company and the ability to keep lots and paths clear of snow.

“We are incredibly thankful for the resiliency of our students, staff and the support of the community,” Bryant said.

District 161 announced on its website that schools will be open again on Friday.

“It is difficult to make school closure decisions,” wrote Superintendent Craig Doster on the website. “There are many serious factors to take into consideration. Please be mindful that it is always your prerogative as a parent to keep your child home from school all day or for a portion of the day if you are concerned about weather conditions.  You have to make the best decision for your family.”

ABC-7 in Chicago sent at news crew to Western Avenue School in Flossmoor on Wednesday. Doster was interviewed and said about 70 percent of students came to school. The ABC-7 crew also filmed at HF High School.

Contact Tom Houlihan at [email protected]


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