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Grundy County schools may have to expand emergency days

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Heidi Litchfield –
Abby Akre spent her snow day Wednesday sledding at Morris Country Club. She's seen here slidding down a hill, while her sister, Mikayla, watches from the top.
(Heidi Litchfield –
Tucker Tesdal, 10, "I've spent my snow day baking cookies, I also learned how to make home made gum drops."
(Heidi Litchfield –
Taggert Tesdal, 14, "I've shoveled the driveway quite a bit, slept in and played basketball in my basement."
(Heidi Litchfield –
Molly Gustafson, 11, "I've been learning German by checking out a book at the library. I can say my cat's name in German, Baby Das Katez, Baby The Cat."

Students at many Grundy County public school districts could see their summer break cut by up to a week, thanks to the number of snow days that have been taken so far this academic year.

How many days is still up in the air for the local districts that have already used four to five of their built-in emergency days.

Regional Superintendent of Schools Chris Mehochko said the Illinois State Board of Education mandates that schools build five emergency dates into their school calendar – down from the 10 days that were required in the past.

He said since the change was made it hasn’t been an issue, as most districts typically only use two to three days a year.

“I’m trying to think back to the nine years I’ve been a superintendent, and I think we’ve used more this year than the previous eight years combined,” Kent Bugg, Coal City School District 1 superintendent, said.

Al Gegenheimer, superintendent of Minooka Grade School District 201, said in the 32 years he’s spent as an educator he can’t remember another year like this year.

“In my career, rarely have we seen more than two a year,” Gegenheimer said.

Both Coal City and Minooka have used their allotted five emergency days as of Wednesday, when schools were closed because of blowing and drifting snow after 4.5 to 4.8 inches of snow fell on the area overnight.

Morris schools are only at day four because one of the missed days was a school institute day.

If school districts use the five emergency days state officials require them to have on their calendar, they can apply to the state for Act of God Days if more days off are needed in a given academic year. Act of God Days are used when school districts are faced with conditions that threaten the health and safety of students, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

When a local school district decides they want to use an Act of God Day, the school board will vote to apply for it and then it goes to the regional superintendent to be approved and sent to the state superintendent of education.

“Once they are beyond the five days due to inclement weather they file for an Act of God Day, I verify that it was due to an Act of God and send it to the state board,” Mehochko said. “They’ve never turned one down that I’m aware of.”

Districts need to apply for the waiver to reduce the number of required student attendance days in an academic year so it doesn’t negatively affect general state aid.

Minooka Grade School has scheduled a special board meeting Thursday night to look at moving the institute day scheduled for Feb. 28 to the end of the year so students would only have to make up four days at the end of the school year.

Making the decision

Pat Halloran, superintendent of Morris Community High School District 111, said the superintendents in Grundy County are in contact with one another when making the decision to call off school for the day.

“Kathy Perry (superintendent of Saratoga School District 60C) plays a key role because the school buses for Morris schools come out of Saratoga,” Halloran said.

Perry said she constantly consults with the head maintenance employee regarding the buses because while the buses are plugged in, there is still a worry about gelling in the fuel lines.

Perry’s role also has changed with consideration for school routes in rural areas south of the river in addition to the rural areas that Saratoga school district covers.

At 4 a.m. Wednesday several of the area superintendents were in their cars driving the roads in their respective districts, trying to make the decision of whether to have school.

“My school district covers 72 square miles, that’s a lot of area,” Gegenheimer said. “In the town of Shorewood and Troy, Seward and Aux Sable townships, the roads were pretty good, but some of the state and county roads were drifting. I went down the road with two hands on the wheel and my face to the windshield.”

Bugg said he heads out to country roads and the Goose Lake area before determining whether to call off school.

“My district is 52 square miles and the outer areas are the concern,” Bugg said. “Those in town may be able to get there, but I don’t know when the plows will get out to some of the rural areas.”

All the superintendents said the safety of their students in their main priority.

“Overall, the decisions made were good calls,” Mehochko said.

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