Schools to apply for 'Act of God' waivers

The Heritage School District has used all five of their emergency days, Superintendent Tom Davis said.

And then some.

They have used eight emergency days since the start of the school  year.

The district has applied for three Act of God waivers, which would enable them to not have to make up the additional days.

Davis said the school year will most likely end on June 2.

"Our school board discussed whether it would be prudent to extend the school year beyond June 2, which is a district prerogative to fully make up all school days missed, including what would come under the Act of God guidelines, but they felt with many families already planning summer activities and vacations that it was not feasible at this time," he said. "If we were to miss more days, we would re-visit that decision most likely."

Davis said he cannot remember the district using so many emergency days in the past.

"Honestly, I have been at Heritage since 1994 and the last time I can remember (something like this) was in the late 1990s," he said.

Prairieview-Ogden has also used all five of its emergency days.

The district will apply for one Act of God Day waiver, Superintendent Vic White said.

White said the last day for his district will be May 28.

White agreed that this winter is worse than previous winters. His district has never had to apply for Act of God waivers.

White said before deciding to cancel school, he talks to the Stanton Road Commissioner, the Ogden Road Commissioner and the Champaign County Road Commissioner, in addition to seven or eight local superintendents.

"Some days I am out driving the roads at 5 a.m. too," White said. "Area superintendents try to look at all the variables and make the best decision possible for the well-being of the students. There is not a superintendent that I talk to that wants something to happen to a student or employee."

St. Joseph Grade School Superintendent Todd Pence agreed that all the superintendents just want to do what is best for the students. Pence's district has also used all five of its emergency days.

"If we have to cancel school anymore we will have to apply for Act of God days," he said. "The process isn't a big deal. All we do is submit to the state the reason we canceled the day."  

Pence said his district will end the school year five days after the originally scheduled end to the school year.

This year is a change for the district.

"We haven't had to apply in the 11 years I have been here in St. Joe," he said. "We usually average about two emergency days a year."

All three superintendents said they put the welfare of their students above all else.

"I'm the one that makes the call to have school or not, and I look at every day individually," Pence said. "I have 900 students and 100 employees to worry about.  That's not a responsibility I take lightly. There is no magic number as far as how cold it has to be, or how many inches of snow, before I call it. Every day we are in school (sunny, cold, or icy) there is a certain amount of risk associated with getting kids and employees to and from school. If the road commissioners tell me they can have the roads cleared, and it's not so cold, my buses are going to gel up (so the) chances are we are going to be in school."

Davis agreed.

"I do hear from those connected to social media when a school closing or early dismissal is possible due to the weather forecast, but opinions vary no matter the circumstances," he said. "Like any decision, I try to rely on sources and data; the sources being the weather forecasters for their predictions and then once the weather hits, sources such as the state, county and township plow drivers and commissioners, our maintenance staff, and parents and other district stakeholders who provide input on road conditions throughout the district."

Davis said he also takes into consideration whether the district's buses can handle the cold.

"The data I go on includes whether diesel buses can withstand the temperature and what the road conditions in total add up to throughout the district," he said. "We also communicate with neighboring districts, especially with Villa Grove, who is our sports co-op partner. If we have a snow day, the co-op district policies are that there are no night activities unless required by IHSA or IESA tournament schedules."

Davis said he is not worried about setting a precedent for closing in cold weather because he is considering the safety of students.

"I agree that relying purely on cold forecasts can set a precedent," he said, "but the guideline I try to use is whether our diesel buses can withstand the cold and be reliable given the forecasted or actual temperature when they start up and get on the road as they can easily have issues when it is below zero."

Categories (2):News, Education


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reggieread wrote on March 16, 2017 at 7:03 am

These 'Act of God' waivers do make sense. THat's some innovation which seems quite inspired and according to the papers, I suppose these could make a significant impact.

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