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Bitter cold tests rules for schools

January 29, 2019

Subzero temperatures and even colder wind chills forecast for midweek could put Fort Wayne Community Schools in a rare position : closed for extreme cold.

Temperatures have forced the district to cancel or delay class only 20 days since the 1999-2000 academic year, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said Monday.

“It has to be pretty extreme,” she said.

The National Weather Service of Northern Indiana has issued a wind chill warning from 8 p.m. today to 2 p.m. Thursday for Allen and Whitley counties. Henry and Paulding counties in Ohio are also affected. Wind chills as low as minus 50 are expected, and exposed skin could develop frostbite in as few as 10 minutes, the agency warns.

Wednesday is expected to be partly sunny with a high near minus 10. Thursday calls for a high near 1 degree.

When considering a school delay or cancellation for cold, Allen County school districts use tools from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: a wind chill chart showing when frostbite becomes a concern, and hourly temperature and wind chill predictions.

In a video explaining Southwest Allen County Schools’ winter weather policies and procedures, Superintendent Phil Downs said the district will consider closing schools when temperatures drop to about minus 20.

“Minus 20 is not a firm, set-in-stone temperature; it is the basis around which our discussion will center,” Downs said. “Is there a lot of wind? Is it calm? Do we anticipate it warming up quickly? Those are all factors that we consider on those mornings.”

At East Allen County Schools, delays or closings are considered when frostbite happens in 30 minutes or less, spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly said in an email.

“When these conditions are predicted to occur at 7 a.m., the corporation will strongly consider a delay for the start of school,” Kelly said. “If the conditions continue to occur at 9 a.m., the corporation will strongly consider closing schools.”

Northwest Allen County Schools’ inclement weather guidelines state schools will likely start on time or remain open when wind chills are warmer than minus 20. Delays or closings are likely when wind chills are “clearly and consistently” colder than minus 30.

“When wind chills are between these two extremes, then the decision will be made as late as possible in order to gather as much information about local conditions as possible,” Northwest Allen’s guidelines state.

Along with student safety, districts also consider the effect on buses. Air temperatures : not wind chills : of minus 10 or colder are a concern for Northwest Allen. At Fort Wayne Community, Stockman said, the fuel is guaranteed to minus 15.

“If we’re getting down that cold, that’s a real concern,” Stockman said.

With cancellations likely this week : both Wednesday and Thursday are concerns : officials hope working parents are making arrangements for child care, Stockman said.

“We always look at, if we cancel school, what does that mean for our students who are staying home?” she said. “We know a lot of our students rely on school for having two healthy meals a day. That’s one of the reasons why we don’t take canceling school lightly.”

asloboda@jg.net

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