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January 6, 2014

FREEZE OUT: Area administrators talk school closings because of cold weather

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Snow, ice, sleet — none of it showed up on forecasts for Monday or Tuesday, but the risk of frostbite or hypothermia was enough to cancel schools across Clark and Floyd counties.

District officials in all four school corporations in both counties made early calls Monday afternoon to close schools for Tuesday, Jan. 7. Wind chill forecasts from the National Weather service came in at -20 to -30 degrees, which officials said were enough on their own to call off classes.

Andrew Melin, superintendent at Greater Clark County Schools, said even though the snowfall that was forecasted for the area didn’t materialize, the cold was the main reason for calling off school Monday and Tuesday.

“The main concern everyone had [Monday] related to temperatures,” Melin said. “We weren’t sure the extent of snow or ice we’d get, that was part of that concern, but the main issue was temperature. When you’re dealing with wind chills of 10 below or worse, you start think about whether to close school.”

Monty Schneider, superintendent at West Clark Community Schools, said the state sent guidelines to school officials, suggesting a two-hour delay with a wind chill at -10.

Without much of an increase in the wind chill factor at 10 a.m., he said there’s no point in risking the safety of children.

“I think our roads are in good condition, they didn’t play a factor in it,” Schneider said. “Every decision is a little bit different, but the wind chill is colder than it’s been in 10 or 15 years, so we think this is the safe, prudent thing to do.”

After two weeks off the road for holiday break, buses are also cause for concern. Bill Briscoe, assistant superintendent of the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., said a broken down bus is bad for the kids riding it and the ones waiting for it to arrive.

“After you have buses that have been off for a couple of weeks, they’re just a like a car, it’s more likely that they possibly won’t start,” Briscoe said. “We’ve been doing everything we can, but weather affects our equipment as well.”

Kim Knott, superintendent at Clarksville Community Schools, also said the risk of frostbite was too much to keep schools open.

But each of the districts may not suffer the consequences of closure — tacking on days to the end of the school year. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz sent a waiver form to districts to keep Monday’s and Tuesday’s closure due to extreme cold from lengthening the school year.

Knott and Schneider said they both plan to apply for the waiver while Briscoe and Erin Bojorquez, supervisor of communications for Greater Clark, said they’re considering the application.

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