Cold snap produces quandary for schools

Extra weather closings could force lengthened year
Scott Girard

While many Verona Area School District students have likely enjoyed the five days off so far this school year because of the weather, the unplanned breaks will force them to make up at least one day of instruction.

The state Department of Public Instruction requires districts to hold 180 days of instruction each school year along with a minimum number of hours of instruction for each grade level.

VASD scheduled 184 days of school, leaving four days for weather or other closings, but Tuesday’s cold-weather closing officially pushed the district to five. And it’s still just January.

“We still have a lot of winter left,” superintendent Dean Gorrell said back when the first two extremely cold days occurred.

Schools also closed the last day before winter break in December after a heavy snowfall.

Gorrell said he and the district administrative team met Tuesday to discuss options to make up the day, which include spring break, the end of the year, or a pair of off days in April. The team’s decision will go to the school board at its Feb. 3 meeting for approval.

Gorrell said one priority is giving parents and students “enough time to plan accordingly” around a day that was originally scheduled as a day off.

Verona Area High School students will have to make up additional hours, as well, because they were already eight minutes below the required time of instruction before this week's closings.

Not just cold

Some parents may also have had some confusion around the decision to close schools Monday after the district originally posted – and texted – Sunday late afternoon that it “expected” schools to be open.

Much later – about 11:30 p.m. – the message changed to say that schools would be closed.

Gorrell said that change was due to the temperature itself not meeting the district’s threshold for closing schools, which is a “Wind Chill Warning.” The National Weather Service had issued only a “Wind Chill Advisory” for Monday.

But around 10 p.m., Gorrell went for a drive on some of the district’s rural roads, as he says he does every time it snows in the district, and decided he couldn’t guarantee some of the snow drifts he had to drive through would be cleared by morning.

He said he had trouble even in his four-wheel drive, which meant the conditions would have been worse for those without it.

The decision to close Tuesday came late Monday morning as the NWS posted its “Wind Chill Warning.”

Rescheduled tours

Three elementary schools had open houses planned for either Monday or Tuesday.

Stoner Prairie, Verona Area International School and New Century School all planned to give tours and speak with parents of incoming kindergarten students as the Feb. 14 deadline approaches for parents to choose where to send those children for school next year.

At least two of the schools planned to reschedule the open houses.

Both VAIS and New Century rescheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 4. VAIS will hold its open house from 8-9 a.m., while New Century will hold its make-up open house from 8-10 a.m. Stoner Prairie will not reschedule its open house.

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