The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 31, 2013

Walking students a factor in school closure

Wind chills lead to decision

By Amanda Dyslin
The Free Press

MANKATO — The bitter wind certainly was to blame Thursday for a number of school districts in the area starting classes two hours late, wanting to give the sun and temperatures a chance to rise.

Mankato Area Public Schools, on the other hand, decided to close for the day. Supt. Sheri Allen said that’s because of the district’s high number of students who walk to school.

“We’ve got over 3,400 walkers,” Allen said. “I know the potential of just this wind chill. And it wasn’t going to get better.”

Allen said she always tries to make the call for canceling school or starting late before 6 a.m., which was the case Thursday. She said she didn’t make the call Wednesday night because temperatures were still above zero and the winds had yet to pick up. Also, she said, forecasts don’t always pan out, and whenever possible, it’s important kids be in school.

Early Thursday morning the temperature was -8 and the forecast showed the temperature with wind chill dropping after sunrise, she said. And the National Weather Service wind chill chart showed the district in a wind chill warning. So she made the call to close.

“That’s a lot different than an advisory,” Allen said.

Meanwhile, in St. Peter, Supt. Jeff Olson said part of his district was in a wind chill advisory and part was in a wind chill warning. When making the decision to start two hours late, Olson said he referenced a frostbite-danger chart. If the danger of frostbite is 30 minutes or greater, he opens school.

Some students in the St. Peter district get on the bus as early as 6:35 a.m. when it’s still dark, so starting two hours late seemed appropriate.

“It’s a really difficult decision,” Olson said. “At the end of the day, we all try to act on the safety of our students first and foremost.”

Some smaller districts, such as Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial School, which doesn’t have many students who walk to school, decided to open at the normal time.

“We have significantly less (walkers) because we’re a rural district, so we bus a much higher percentage,” said Supt. Tom Farrell.

The district also has in-town buses that are available this time of year to pick up students within walking distance of school, even just a couple of blocks away who would normally walk.

Thursday night is forecasted to be the coldest of the winter with wind chills here expected to be 30 to 40 below. The wind chill warning is in effect until noon Friday.

 Allen said she would be checking the forecast at 9 p.m. Thursday and again first thing Friday morning to make the call on a possible late start or closure Friday.