MOUNT VERNON — Both college and K-12 administrators began canceling classes Tuesday afternoon in response to the harsh weather forecast. The National Weather service predicted that today’s temperatures would not exceed minus-1 degree, with wind chills as low as minus-33 degrees. Tomorrow will be slightly warmer with a high near 8 degrees, but Mount Vernon City Schools and the Knox County Career Center will still be closed. Thursday will be Mount Vernon’s fifth calamity day of the school year.
Mount Vernon School District Superintendent Bill Seder said he calls off for cold weather any time temperatures are predicted to drop to minus-10 degrees or lower to protect the health and well-being of students who walk to school or wait for buses. Seder acknowledged he also worries about the safety of student drivers who could get stranded in the cold if a car broke down.
“After several years of ‘mild’ winter weather, we currently find ourselves in the midst of another challenging winter,” Seder wrote in a letter to parents Tuesday afternoon, in which he canceled classes for the next two days.
Administrators typically wait until the morning of class to cancel for snowy or icy roads, but forecasted temperatures are less likely than storm patterns to change at the last minute, Seder explained. Both Seder and Centerburg Local Schools Superintendent Mike Hebenthal said they prefer to give parents as much notice as possible.
“If we can cancel the night before, we do so families can make plans,” Hebenthal said. Centerburg students are also home today, but classes have not yet been called off for Thursday. Hebenthal keeps students home for temperatures or wind chills of minus-15 degrees.
“There’s days when it’s been (minus-9) and no wind and we’ve had school,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had to make days up.”
Centerburg schools have used three of their five allocated calamity days this year. If Centerburg does exceed the limit, students will make up time during the first three days of spring break and then at the end of the school year as necessary.
Centerburg does not use blizzard bags, which allow schools to substitute online assignments that students complete at home for a limited number of make up hours. Hebenthal said that the schools tried blizzard bags a few years ago, but neither teachers nor students were fond of them. Families with multiple children sometimes didn’t have enough computers at home for all their children to complete assignments.
Knox County Career Center Superintendent Kathy Greenich had also canceled classes for both today and Thursday by the time her students went home from school Tuesday. Greenich stated that her approach to calamity days is to watch surrounding districts and take into account how many of her students come from areas where schools are closed. Typically, KCCC cancels class if Mount Vernon and one other school district that feeds into KCCC close, or if any four districts in Knox County call off. When both Mount Vernon and Clear Fork announced they would not be open today, Greenich made the call. Thursday will be the district’s sixth day closed due to weather.
Knox County Career Center students will begin working on blizzard bags Thursday. Mount Vernon teachers will assign them at the next cancellation. Seder stressed that the work is both timely and relevant to student learning.
“It’s really important that we’re not just sending home busy work,” said Seder.
“It’s content that we need to deliver,” said Jeff Lavin, the high school director at KCCC. “That way we’re not losing three more days of instruction.”
If the schools do cancel more than eight days due to weather, days will be added to the end of the school year.