Making the call to close schools due to weather

By Amanda Porterfield |

Published 01/23 2014 10:18PM

Updated 01/24 2014 10:25AM

CHAMPAIGN -- Whether it's for cold or snow, someone has to make the decision to close school. But, what goes into making that decision? WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield finds out.

Unit 4 superintendent Judy Wiegand says she decides in a way most decisions involving kids are made. She assesses the situation, talks with others and goes with her gut.

"It's a big decision and not an easy one, but I always have to go with, what if something terrible happened to a child?"

A lot of decisions about Unit 4 students are made at the Mellon Building. But, when it comes to closing school because of weather, Wiegand's decision usually starts, well, a snowball effect, leading the way for other districts.

"For us to call school, it has to be really cold or the main roads have to be covered."

In this case, below zero weather has started the conversation between her, her staff and Urbana superintendent Don Owen.

"We started talking yesterday afternoon and we didn't come to a final decision til maybe around 6 or 7 pm last night."

Unlike what teaches students inside these walls, Wiegand says there's no official rulebook they use. But, she says temperature isn't the most important number.

"Windchill. With this type of weather, we certainly take a look when it starts to get about 15 - 20 below, that's when we have those conversations."

Walking, that's how Wiegand says nearly 1,000 middle and elementary age students get to Unit 4 schools. Since it's cold enough to get frostbite, it's one of her top priorities.

"I also know that, just from the reports, from our bus drivers, kids don't come dressed the way they should with jackets that are what they should be, no gloves, no hats, so those things we talk about and make the decision."

To let everyone know, the district uses every way it can, including Facebook, Twitter and the WCIA-3 Ticker, of course.

"Based on the responses from Twitter and Facebook, it sounded like parents understood."

But whether they do or not, at the end of the day, Wiegand says it's a decision she has to live with.

"If the forecast is calling for this frigid weather to continue, I can't put children in this type of weather and it would be absolutely horrific for me to know that somebody was hurt because we didn't call it and they're out in the cold."

Unit 4 has not canceled school for Friday, but Wiegand says, next week is a possibility.

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