Illinois school districts might be forced to use a state exemption to help deal with all the snow days that are piling up.
The Illinois Board of Education says it doesn't know yet just how many districts are close to using all the emergency closure days they get each school year. But board spokeswoman Mary Fergus says, anecdotally, they know a number of districts are very close.
She says it's not just bitterly cold temperatures and endless piles of snow that are putting administrators in these situations.
“Last year, we had some flooding, and last fall, we had tornadoes that affected some districts,” Fergus said.
And some schools battled extreme heat last fall. Each school year, districts can use five emergency days, but those days have to be made up. In most cases, the make-up days are built within the academic calendar, which prevents them from being added on in June.
If administrators need to use more closure days, they can still cancel classes, but they have to declare those instances as 'Act of God' days. They later have to submit paperwork in order to officially secure the exemption from their regional superintendents and the state board. Fergus says getting approval is important, because it allows districts to forgo making up the additional snow days without fear of potentially losing state aid. Schools are required to honor a certain amount of student attendance days in order to maintain funding.
DeKalb Superintendent Jim Briscoe says, so far, they have used four emergency days. But he says they have held back from taking similar action a number of other times.
“We probably could have called off school more. But I think people have gotten to the point with the extreme cold that unless it’ really extreme, we’re gonna go to school,” Briscoe said.
In Freeport, where wind chills have been much more dangerous at times, public school officials have already canceled classes nine times this year.