'Strictly for student safety': Superintendents defend school closures

News-DemocratJanuary 9, 2014 

For the fourth straight day, metro-east schools were closed Thursday; students lost more instruction time; and working parents were left scrambling to find childcare.

Superintendent Todd Koehl said O'Fallon District 90 schools were forced to close again Thursday due to safety issues.

"The side streets for some folks are really impassable," he said.

Superintendent Matt Klosterman said Belleville District 118 schools closed due to the conditions of the side roads and the lack of access to bus stops and sidewalks for students who walk.

"We were very concerned about a lack of a safe place for those kids to maneuver around," he said.

Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier concurred: "We felt the conditions getting to and from bus stops and waiting at bus stops would have been dangerous."

Belle Valley School District 119 Superintendent Louis Obernuefemann said Belle Valley was closed "strictly for student safety."

Several districts have called off school for Friday including Belleville District 118, Belleville District 201, Central District 104, East St. Louis District 189, O'Fallon District 203, Shiloh District 85, Collinsville School District 10, Edwardsville School District 7 and Triad School District 2.

Right call?

A majority of parents and others who commented on the Belleville News-Democrat's Facebook page agreed with district officials who called off school Thursday.

Nichole Bernreuter said, "The neighborhood roads are horrible and have been since the first snowfall. There has to be a better system in place to handle clearing the roads."

Parent Beth Burford Van Horn, who has children at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Belleville, said busses would not be able to safely navigate her neighborhood.

Jennifer Lair Snyder said she's glad officials canceled school. "My kids and others drive to school and I would rather them cancel and have to make up than have an accident," she said.

Parent Jennifer Ritchie also said she's pleased schools were closed. She has a student at Belleville East and one at Central Junior High in Belleville.

"I am pleased that they are taking the safety of my kids so serious," she said. "There is no way I would allow my kids to walk on our street."

Parent Yumeka Rodgers, whose daughter attends school in District 201, agreed schools should be closed.

"The school district is doing the necessary thing and putting our children safety first," she said. "The streets in which the busses travel are horrible and I would hate for my child or any child for that matter to be hurt."

Parent Beth Gagen said closures were "for the best." She has a student at Jefferson Elementary School in Belleville and one at Althoff Catholic High School.

"As much as they need to go back, the roads are awful," Gagen said.

State testing

With state standardized testing just two months away, superintendents are dealing with the loss of instruction time.

"We are concerned about it," Klosterman said. "There's a lot of curriculum to cover and our staff want kids to be as prepared as possible."

"It's always a concern," Obernuefemann said, "but you do the best with what you're handed."

Koehl said, "What we are really losing is instructional time for our curriculum."

The Illinois Standards Achievement Test is scheduled to be administered March 3-13 to third-through eighth-graders in reading and math and fourth- and seventh-graders in science.

Sophomores in high school will take the Prairie State Achievement Examination in April.

Losing four days of teaching is not ideal, Dosier said, but the safety of students is paramount.

Illinois State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch and the Illinois State Board of Education could make adjustments to the testing schedule. An official with the ISBE could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Emergency days

Every school district in Illinois is required to schedule at least five emergency days, which may be used at the discretion of the district, according to Susan Sarfaty, St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools.

Many metro-east districts have used all five emergency days.

"If we go anything pass this point, they will be Act of God days," Obernuefemann said.

If weather emergencies force more closures after a district uses all of its emergency days, Sarfaty said the district must request approval for an Act of God day or modify their calendar to schedule additional days at the end of the school year.

An Act of God day must be approved by the regional superintendent and the state superintendent of education.

"I would not be surprised if we have Act of God days this year," Sarfaty said. "We haven't had Act of God days for three years."

If an Act of God day is approved, Sarfaty said school districts do not have to make up that day and do not lose general state aid for that day.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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