MARQUETTE - Extreme windchill temperatures and gusts up to 20 mph closed Marquette Area Public Schools this morning for the sixth time this school year. MAPS interim superintendent Bill Saunders said the district's weather gauge showed windchills holding steady between 26 below and 38 below zero this morning.
"Our unwritten policy has been 25 below or lower windchill, we don't run school," Saunders said, adding though the decision to close school is sometimes unpopular, he felt confident the temperatures were too cold for students to be outside walking to school or waiting at a bus stop.
"I know that a lot of the complaints I get, those parents drive their kids to school and unfortunately, every parent because of their work schedule, maybe they don't own a car, they don't have a choice but to have their kids walk or ride the bus to school," Saunders said. "In good conscience, I can't have a a kid standing out in 30 below windchill waiting for a bus or walking to school."
Jameson Bishop, 6, of Marquette helps with the shoveling during his snow day Thursday. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Michigan public schools are allotted up to six snow days each year.
However, in the case of severe weather that shuts down schools after April 1, school districts can apply to the state to have those days forgiven.
The past two years have been rough on area schools. In the 2011-2012 school year, MAPS called off school 10 times due to severe cold or blowing snow. That's the highest number of snow days in almost 20 years, according to information provided by the district.
In fact, the district had not gone over the current allotment of six snow days in any school year dating back to 1995-1996. Most years there were three days or fewer. There were none in 1997-1998.
With five snow days already called this school year by most area districts before the end of January, it's likely the students will have to make up some time at the end of the school year. It's an even more likely possibility for students attending the MAPS district.
But NICE Community Schools superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said the amount of days already used is not a factor he considers in his decision to call off school.
"I just take it one day at a time and if it seems too dangerous to go to school then I close school," DeAugustine said. "I don't really worry about any of the rest of it."
And while two-hour delays are sometimes used when severe weather is only forecasted to last through the morning hours, some area superintendents said parents prefer to either have their kids go to school or just stay home.
"The feedback they had from the parents (in the past) was the two-hour delay inconvenienced parents more, so from a philosophical standpoint the district had kind of gotten away from two-hour delays," Saunders said. "It was either good enough to have school or cancel, versus further inconveniencing parents. ...
"That is a conversation that I've broached around the district and am looking for feedback on that because as we start to encounter more of these severe weather patterns, I'd like us to explore looking at the two-hour delay."
DeAugustine expressed a similar concern with the two-hour delay.
"A two-hour delay doesn't really work for us just because of our geographic size," DeAugustine said. "We've always had a tradition just to call off school."
DeAugustine said the two-hour delay put an "undue burden" on families, especially working parents with young children who may find it difficult to place them in daycare for only a few hours in the morning then take them to school.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.