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Too cool for school? As temperatures dip below zero, schools stay closed for safety

Ice accumulates following a winter storm. (Republic file photo)

Frigid temperatures kept many area students home from school Tuesday morning.

More than 20 region school districts started late as temperatures plummeted to colder than 20 degrees below zero when accounting for wind chill — the threshold many superintendents say is the deciding point for when to delay classes.

Bon Homme School District Superintendent Mike Elsberry began thinking about postponing school before school let out on Monday. Looking at the forecasted wind chill values of nearly 30 degrees below zero, Elsberry said it wasn't difficult to make the call around 7 p.m. Monday to open school late.

"I don't want to put little kids on the bus in that kind of cold, and we have employees that come from Yankton and other areas that would have to be out in the cold, on possibly icy roads, in the dark," Elsberry said. "Those people are more important than the two hours of school."

There are no national or professional standards for weather conditions suitable for school or sending children outside for recess, but the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls recommends that when temperatures fall below zero children should stay inside for recess. Decisions about school closures and postponements due to frigid cold are a judgement call for school administrators, but if wind chill values register at negative 35 degrees or colder, many districts will consider closing or delaying the start of school.

Some superintendents, like Joel Bailey, of Platte-Geddes, and Jason Bailey, of Bridgewater-Emery, said they coordinate their decisions with other area superintendents and rely on each other when unsure.

In Plankinton, where classes started two hours late, Superintendent Steve Randall said he, too, will begin contemplating a delayed start around 20 degrees below zero. When making the decision, Randall said he will consider how strong the wind is supposed to blow, road conditions and more. But, ultimately, if he's unsure, he'll err on the side of safety, especially knowing many of his students travel on rural roads.

"The thing that's different now is most kids have cellphones on them and that makes a difference, but if they get in a crash and don't have it right there, it's a problem, especially in those conditions," Randall said. "You look out for kids and that's the way it is. I'd rather give up two hours and get them here ... than put somebody in danger."

And according to the NWS, Tuesday should be the last day for at least a week school officials are forced to make that call due to the cold. Thursday and Friday high temperatures are forecast in the mid-40s, and are to remain above 20 degrees through the end of next week.

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