To close school or not to close school. During the frigid and snowy winter months in the Chicago area, it’s one of the toughest decisions a superintendent has to make.
Whatever the decision, someone will be unhappy.
As bitter cold weather descended upon the Chicago area Tuesday night, superintendents had to decide. Most area schools, including Riverside Elementary School District 96, Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95, Lyons-Brookfield District 103, St. Mary School and St. Louise De Marillac School followed what seemed to be the trend in the Chicago area and decided to close Wednesday.
But a few others, including Komarek School in North Riverside, LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 and both local high schools, Riverside Brookfield High School and Lyons Township High School, decided to buck the trend and stay open.
The differing decisions of RBHS and its feeder districts in Riverside and Brookfield left some parents grumbling.
Two members of the District 96 school board, who both have a high school student and elementary school students at home, emerged from a meeting after 11 p.m. on Tuesday night grumbling about the decision of Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis to close District 96 schools, noting that high school students would not be home from school to supervise their elementary school-age siblings.
Sharma-Lewis made the decision to close District 96 schools at about 10:20 p.m. The late notice also upset some parents who wished they could have known earlier so that could make plans to care for the children the next day. Some parents had to take a day off of work to stay home with their kids on Wednesday.
Sharma-Lewis said that she decided to close schools, because she wanted to make sure that nothing bad would happen to a child.
But Komarek District 94 Superintendent Neil Pellicci decided to keep the K-though-8 school in North Riverside open.
“You have to look at your population. I think a lot of it has to do with that we have a lot of two-parent, working families and the kids have to go somewhere,” Pellicci said. “My feeling is that it’s better for a lot of our families if the school stays open.”
Pellicci said that staff had no problems getting to work Wednesday.
“The teachers are here,” Pellicci said. “The teachers really had no problem coming in. I have a full staff; no one called in sick or anything like that.”
About 28 percent of Komarek students were absent on Wednesday, about three times the normal average. In his Tuesday evening call to families notifying them that Komarek would remain open Wednesday, Pellicci reminded parents that it was ultimately their decision whether to send their child to school or not.
Komarek opened its doors to students at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 40 minutes earlier than normal, so kids would not have to wait outside in the bitter cold.
“We opened up at 7:30 to let kids come in and just hang in the gym until school started,” Pellicci said.
No children are bussed to Komarek, another factor in Pellicci’s decision to stay open.
“We don’t have busing, so we’re not dealing with that issue,” Pellicci said. “Most of our children get dropped off. It was a very smooth start to the day this morning for everybody.”
Some kids do take the bus to school in District 95, and that was a factor in District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski’s decision to shut down on Wednesday.
“I think the wind chill was predicted at negative 30. That’s kind of our threshold, so with the number of kids we have that have to wait outside for a bus, and then if the buses are running late they get stuck there, I think that type of danger is not worth putting the kids in,” Kuzniewski said.
Kuzniewski said District 95 schools will probably be open Thursday.
“We have not made the decision, but I’m pretty certain that we’ll be in session tomorrow.”