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School’s out for winter: Educators, students deal with days away from the classroom

January 31, 2019

Montmorency Superintendent Alex Moore grew up knowing what it was like to pass through a couple of fields to get to school. 

Moore grew up south of Rock Falls, and attended the school that he later would oversee. The buck stops at him for all school matters, and the major one as of late has been the decision whether to call off school, given how curmudgeonly Old Man Winter has been lately.

“When I make those decisions, obviously I think about the kids first,” Moore said. “I try not only to think about the kids, but the parents, and staff members – I’ve got staff members who live an hour in each direction – and bus drivers.

“For me, it comes down to the fact that, could I live with myself if I make the wrong decision and someone got hurt? I could make the right decision and just let out.”

Superintendents have been pondering that same decision nearly every morning for the past week.

“Several factors go into making the call on a snow day,” Rock Falls District 13 Superintendent Dan Arickx said. “Information on current road conditions, the amount and timing of snow and ice accumulation, temperature and wind chill, school building conditions, whether buses will be running on schedule, and consolation with weather consultants and other nearby school districts.

“For morning decisions, conditions are monitored throughout the night, and again at approximately 4:30 to 5:30 a.m. by district personnel.”

Each cancelled day is logged with a district’s Regional Office of Education. Bob Sondgeroth, regional superintendent for Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties, has experienced just one instance in the past decade where his districts have used all five emergency days; that happened in 2014. 

When a school day is cancelled, it is to be made up. Districts build a certain number of emergency days, typically 5, into their official school calendar; after that, school days can be made up at the end of the year, on spring break, or on the observations of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) or Casmir Pulaski (March 4) if school is not in session on either day.

Only after their emergency days are exhausted can districts, with the advice or consent of their boards of education, opt whether to make up cancelled days numbering 6 or more.

Dixon made the decision at 3 p.m. Monday and posted messages on its website and Twitter and Facebook pages about canceling school for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Since the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Jan. 21, Dixon Public Schools has had one half-day session on Jan. 22 and one full-day session on Jan. 24. 

Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico schools made a similar announcement of its 3-day closure around the same time as Dixon.

Sauk Valley Community College decided at around 2 p.m. to close for the same 3-day stretch.

Other schools made public announcements by Monday night. Sterling public schools, Christ Lutheran in Sterling, St. Andrew in Rock Falls, and Amboy, Bureau Valley, Erie, Fulton, Morrison, Ohio and Paw Paw schools also announced 3-day closures. 

Rock Falls High School, and East Coloma-Nelson, Montmorency and Rock Falls District 13 schools in Rock Falls; Faith Christian School in Grand Detour; and Ashton-Franklin Center, Chadwick-Milledgeville, Eastland, Oregon, Polo, and West Carroll school districts announced 2-day closures, with Thursday’s status pending review.

“A couple of years ago, the state began allowing districts to call off school in advance based on predictions,” Sondgeroth said.

From Jan. 19 to Feb. 3, a total of 16 days, including weekends, Dixon students will have been in attendance for 1.5 days, if Friday also is called off. In some districts, the string of cancelled days seems like the weeklong break students get in the spring.

AFC senior Amie Case is experiencing a stretch of 6 days off from school, with Thursday’s status unknown. The school’s December Student of the Month still gets classwork from her dual credit course at Sauk Valley Community College, but most of the day seems pretty empty.

“It is annoying,” Case said. “I like routines, and not having a routine – it’s not fun. I feel like there’s nothing you can do because it’s all outside.” 

Sterling High School junior Cooper Willman is using the down time from studies to prepare for a couple of big basketball games for his varsity Golden Warriors, who play a conference game with Rochelle on Friday and longtime rival Rock Falls on Saturday.

“It’s good to have time off and be able to relax,” Willman said. “but bad for academics, because we lose focus till we get back into it.”

Dylan Leaf, a senior at Rock Falls who also plays basketball, also finds the downtime from studies to be a big help in preparation for a big game on Saturday.

“It’s a little bit of a nice relax,” Leaf said. “We get a few days to relax and rest and get our minds right for this weekend, and not have to be stressed with homework and such every night.”

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