By Melanie Williamson
With temperatures reaching record lows, the students of the Vermilion district and most other area districts enjoyed an extra week of winter vacation. This always leads to parents and residents asking how it is decided when to cancel school.
Superintendent Phil Pempin shared that the decision starts the day before. Pempin stated that he is in contact with director of operations James Williamson the day before, the evening before, and sometimes throughout the night as they monitor the weather, the temperature, and the road conditions. Pempin also stated that he stays in contact with the superintendents from surrounding districts, and they try to work together to provide consistency, but that isn’t always possible.
While they try to make the decision as early as possible, it can be made as late as 6 a.m. depending on changing conditions. The first bus leaves the bus garage at 6:10 a.m. Parents are notified through a wide range of mediums including automated phone calls, emails, and social media. Pempin stated that he understands it can be frustrating for parents when a decision isn’t made until morning, but there are many factors to take into consideration and those factors are often changing.
He shared that some days are easier than others to make a decision. For example, on Monday, January 8, there was a level three emergency level for road conditions in Erie County. With many of the district’s students in Erie County, school was cancelled.
He explained that when the wind chill goes between -8 and -10 degrees, it starts getting iffy. He asserted that the safety of the students and the drivers are the top concern. He shared that of the 2049 students in the district, 881 are transported by bus and 1168 either walk or are driven. When the weather gets cold, the concern is not only for the students walking, but also for the students standing outside waiting for the bus.
In regards to the days missed, Pempin stated that the state has changed the requirements for attendance from days to hours of seat time. This has given the district significantly more flexibility, in that they are able to absorb the days that have been missed. He went on to explain that the there is an agreement with the Vermilion Teachers Association that if they miss more than five days due to weather, they can amend the school calendar for the teachers to add professional development days to the school year.