Closing school for a day is always a tough choice. Canceling classes for an entire week was an agonizing decision, said Amherst superintendent Steven Sayers.
“These are very, very difficult decisions. We don’t enter into them lightly,” he told the News-Times after students found their holiday vacation extended by four days.
An arctic blast brought wind chills of -11 degrees to the region. Most schools in Lorain and Cuyahoga counties shut their doors through Friday amid the plummeting temperatures.
The Amherst Schools have roughly 3,700 students, and about 1,400 ride buses. Many of the remaining 2,300 are walkers.
The safety of those pedestrians and kids waiting at bus stops was foremost in Sayers’ decision to cancel school, he said: “We err on the side of caution and make the best decision we can.”
The extreme cold posed a real danger.
Temperatures dropped into the single digits, but the real threat was wind chill. It doesn’t actually measure temperature, but how much heat our bodies lose when exposed to the wind. Gusts whip away the layer of thermal protection your skin generates.
For instance, if it’s 15 degrees outside and wind is blowing at 10 mph, it will feel like the temperature is actually -2 degrees. Increase that wind speed to 20 mph and you’re dealing with a perceived -17 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
On Thursday, amid widespread cancellations, the real temperature in Amherst was 12 degrees but it felt like -5, even with the sun out.
Low temperatures and stiff winds aren’t just uncomfortable — they can be deadly. The weather service warns to limit time outside when temperatures drop under the freezing point to avoid frostbite and hypothermia:
• Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Trapped air between the layers will insulate you. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.
• Wear a hat, because much of your body heat can be lost from your head.
• Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.
• Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
• Try to stay dry and out of the wind.
Sayers said most people understand why cold days are used to protect students. He also commiserates with those working parents left scrambling to find childcare when schools close.
“It’s winter in Ohio and we’re going to make the best of it,” he said. “Given the choice, we would much rather be in school. We only have our students for 180 days as it is.”
The lost days cut deeply into instructional time, forcing teachers to improvise and adjust when classes resumed. For example, the end-of-semester schedule at Steele High School was modified to push back exams by a week.
One more “free” snow or cold day remains in reserve. Once it’s used, students will have to make up days at the end of the academic year, Sayers said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.