Schools heeding forecasts

Nobody’s cancelled school yet, but some area school superintendents said they’re keeping a close eye on the upcoming weather with student safety in mind.

“We’re very concerned about the temperature,” Crestview Superintendent John Dilling said, noting that if it gets as bad as they’re saying, he’ll be cancelling.

Weather reports are calling for snow to start piling up tonight, with extreme low temperatures forecast for Monday night through Wednesday morning.

According to a National Weather Service wind chill watch for Columbiana County, actual temperatures could drop as low as 15 degrees below zero. With the wind chill, the temps could drop to 30 degrees or 40 degrees below zero.

Dilling normally goes out in the morning and checks the roads between 4:30 and 5, consulting with other superintendents, but said “this extreme cold is something different.”

Crestview does not have a lot of walkers since it’s mostly a rural district, but parents do drop their children off to wait at bus stops, so students are exposed to the cold and with single-digit temps and the wind chill, that’s a concern.

Salem Superintendent Tom Bratten said the fact that he’s got 1,100 walkers in the city district plays into his decision-making a little more than if it’s just snow and bad roads.

“I don’t want to expose them to situations that are going to be dangerous for them,” he said.

With low temperatures, he said it doesn’t take long for frostbite to occur. In Salem, students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade who live within a mile of school have to walk. For grades seven through 12, the distance is a mile and a half. Not everybody shovels their walks, which he said puts a lot of the kids on the streets.

Bratten said he follows the weather reports, usually gets up by 4 a.m. and consults with district Transportation Director Matt Freeman, fellow superintendents, Salem Police and city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst. The first bus rolls at 6 a.m., so he tries to make a decision no later than 5:45 a.m.

“I try to make the call for parents as early as possible,” he said.

Whatever Salem decides, St. Paul School follows their lead. An automated call system is used to notify parents in most of the school districts, along with placing the information on district websites and notifying area television and radio stations.

Leetonia Superintendent Rob Mehno said he has to not only consider what the weather’s like in the morning, but what it’s going to be like in the afternoon, too, when it’s time to go home. During a snow incident that occurred in November, buses were an hour and a half later than normal in getting students home and one bus got stuck.

For morning incidents, he said sometimes a two-hour delay works better, depending on the weather and temperatures. In Leetonia, busing is available for all students, but some who live close do walk. They also have a lot of older students who drive to school.

Mehno and district Transportation Supervisor Russ Miller both drive the roads beginning at 4:30 a.m. to check conditions. His goal is to make the decision by 5:30 a.m. since the first bus picks up kids at 6:05 a.m.

“The bottom line is safety first,” he said.

If they know the weather’s coming, they try to decide the night before if possible to give parents as much notification as possible, Mehno said. He’s already talked to some fellow superintendents this weekend and said he’ll start the process Sunday night, evaluating the conditions outside and the weather reports.

Dilling said the Crestview district tries to notify parents as many ways as possible, with texts, calls, the district website, television news and radio. He said parents can go on the district website to register for notifications.

When he makes the decision will depend on the weather, including the amount of snow and the temperatures outside.

“I’d rather err on being careful,” he said.

Buses will be ready to go if school’s in session in most districts, with electric heaters used for the engines on cold nights.

Bratten said no matter what’s decided, 50 percent of the people will think he’s wrong. He said he decides “on the side of caution and students.”

As long as he does that, he said he can sleep at night.