Meadville Tribune

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January 25, 2013

Tough weather creates tough decisions for area education officials

MEADVILLE — If weather or road conditions seem frightful, parents of elementary or secondary students always have the option of bringing their children to school late or keeping them home altogether.

“A parent always reserves the right to keep their child at home if the weather conditions are too cold or the road conditions around where they live seem unsafe. That will be considered a legal excuse,” PENNCREST School District Superintendent Connie Youngblood told the Tribune during a recent interview. “If you’re talking about a large school district, or an entire county, it may be safe in most places but not on your particular road.”

Ditto for Crawford Central and Conneaut school districts, according to superintendents Charlie Heller and Jarrin Sperry.

The three superintendents also agree that there’s no easy answer when it comes time to decide to cancel school. Because all three districts send students to Crawford County Career & Technical Center in Meadville, they make every effort to arrive at a joint decision when that time comes.

As for delaying the start of the school day, “On Tuesday, the temperatures were frigid, but the forecast was that it wasn’t going to change,” Youngblood explained. Since the whole reason for a two-hour delay is to give weather conditions an opportunity to improve dramatically during those two hours, that wasn’t an option.

Superintendents also agree that a two-hour delay comes with its own set of drawbacks. “It inconveniences parents who work,” Sperry said. “They have to find someone to watch their child or they have to come in late to work. Is there a perfect answer? I don’t know.”

The option of closing schools altogether was never seriously considered.

A wind-chill advisory was issued by the National Weather Service for Tuesday into Wednesday, Sperry recalled. “We did talk about that — but it wasn’t a warning.”

According to the National Weather Service’s Cleveland office, an advisory would be issued in this region if wind-chill values — a combination of temperature and wind speed — are between 10 below zero and 24 below zero and the wind speed is at least 6 mph. If the wind-chill value falls below -24, a warning is issued.

Although temperatures plummeted, local snowfall was remarkably light, especially when compared to Erie, where snow accumulations have occupied a top spot on local television news.

“On Tuesday into Wednesday, the lake effect was coming across the lake right across the top of Erie County,” Sperry explained. “We were not getting it down here — we’ve had snow, but not like they did.”

Even in the City of Erie, however, public schools remained open. The only exception was a single school closed because of water supply problems caused by an apparent leak somewhere in Erie’s municipal water system.

“The weather is on the back of our minds on a daily basis hour by hour,” Heller said Thursday. “We (superintendents) talk during the day. But we do live in northwest Pennsylvania and we do know that we have frigid weather from time to time. We know we have to take precautions — and we expect our students and families to do the same. We would never make a decision that would put people in harm’s way.”

Sperry and Youngblood agree.

“We live in northwest Pennsylvania and this is January,” Youngblood said. “This is typical of the type of weather we should be accustomed to. We’re fortunate we haven’t had more of this type of weather.”

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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