This story was updated at 4:46 p.m. to reflect additional details, including the closure of H-F High School on Thursday.
Schools in Homewood District 153 and Flossmoor District 161 and Homewood-Flossmoor High School were open Tuesday, but officials in both districts have decided to shutter all schools on Wednesday and Thursday due to anticipated extremely cold temperatures.
After-school activities are also canceled for today, Wednesday and Thursday.
Also, Prairie State College will be closed Wednesday and Thursday.
At Homewood District 153, schools opened early Tuesday so that students could have supervision before classes started.
“This allows parents to drop-off and still get to work,” Superintendent Dale Mitchell said.
Student enrollment Monday was at about 85 percent, which he called “pretty typical” for days with weather-related issues.
“I am very concerned about the temps and wind chills all day Wednesday and Thursday morning,” he said.
Mitchell makes the final call on closing, in consultation with School Board President Shelly Marks and superintendents in other districts. He also talks with Flossmoor District 161 Superintendent Dana Smith so they can share information.
The snowy Monday morning commute also caused a greater number of District 161 teachers to miss the workday, Smith said, but the call-outs were typical for a day that started with a snowstorm.
“I appreciate the fact that our teachers have families and commutes, and do all those things every day that go into being a good worker. They get out and show up when they can,” Smith said. “Now, the other half of that agreement is that on days like Wednesday, I’m not going to ask them to drive to work. It’s not that we’re afraid of the cold. It’s just not safe.”
It’s a tough decision to close schools for an entire day or two, Smith said. They try to consider all contingencies and make the best call possible for their entire school population. Parents may hear that another district canceled classes while Flossmoor’s students are still in school and wonder why.
For example, Crete-Monee School District 201U canceled classes Monday, but Smith said those administrators have to think of many more students standing on rural corners waiting for a bus, while District 161 students likely wouldn’t have such a problem.
Meanwhile, other parents face challenges when schools are closed, since they may still be expected on the job.
“If you have to go to work and we decide we’re not going to have school and your kids are going to be home, that’s tough for families to face,” Smith said. “As a social center that serves the community and the community relies on, we want to be open. But sometimes you just have to make the call that it’s not safe.”
Smith said district officials are considering drafting a plan that would allow them to trigger a late-start schedule for mornings such as Monday, when the commute is particularly challenging.
They are close to implementing other options, too. Monday night’s District 161 school board meeting included a discussion of final plans to move forward with an e-learning platform.
“This will help by offering students some different ways to engage in the classroom. You can’t make it in? OK, let’s hop on this Google hangout,” Smith said. “If school is closed, it’s going to be an e-learning day. You’ll have your work waiting for you. And that can count as a day of attendance.”
Mitchell and Homewood administrators are looking at a similar plan following guidelines being set by the Illinois State Board of Education.
The previous ISBE definition of a full day was five clock hours, but because the state has changed the funding formula for schools, there no longer is a minimum number of minutes and hours required. ISBE is recognizing e-learning still gives students time on task. It could count as hours of learning even though not in a typical classroom.
It would put an end to the old system of taking a “snow day” and then having to make up that day at the end of the school calendar so districts could register the required 176 days of instruction.