Wind chill indexes in the minus 30 range changed plans for a number of corridor school districts on Thursday. Students and staff in the Cedar Rapids, College Community and Marion Independent school districts all coped with the weather via two-hour delays while administrators in the Waterloo and Iowa City Community School Districts canceled classes.
Cedar Rapids (16,865 K-12 students), Iowa City (13,160 K-12 students) and Waterloo (10,992 K-12 students), are the state’s second-, fifth- and sixth-largest school districts.
At 1:01 p.m. Jan. 22, administrators in the Iowa City Community School District announced that classes would be canceled due to “dangerously cold temperatures,” on one of the district’s Twitter accounts. Iowa City administrators were unable to respond to questions from The Gazette by deadline.
That evening, Waterloo Community School District Superintendent Gary Norris decided that Jan. 23. classes would be delayed for two hours.
“That decision was based upon a wind chill sufficient enough to cause frostbite,” Norris said. “The two hours are used in Iowa because it would be the shortest (full) day allowable by Iowa Code which is 5.5 hours.”
Cedar Rapids Community School District administrators also opted for a two-hour delay and publicized that decision on the evening of Jan. 22.
A document from the district states that administrators implement the two-hour delay “when information suggests conditions will improve.”
At 7 a.m. on Thursday, KCRG-TV9 Weather Lab data showed windchill readings of minus 34 for Cedar Rapids, minus 30 for Iowa City and minus 33 for Waterloo.
A test fleet of Waterloo district buses went out between 6:30 and 7 a.m., without students, just to see how the vehicles would fare in the cold weather, Norris said. This is a standard district practice when temperatures are below zero, the superintendent said, and the result was that seven of the 20 to 25 buses experienced issues with fuel gelling or the fuel lines.
Once the superintendent had that information about the buses, he decided to cancel classes out of a concern that the vehicles might stall and not be able to transport students to and from schools.
“I hate to make the decision off of forecast,” Norris said. “My experience has taught me sometimes forecasts are just that. Forecasts are just predictions. They’re not always accurate.”
Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Waterloo administrators were all in agreement earlier this month when a polar vortex produced frigid temperatures. District students also did not have class on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7, when KCRG-TV9 Weather Lab data showed that wind chill index readings sank to minus 44 and minus 20, respectively, for Waterloo, 38 below zero and 16 below zero, respectively for Iowa City and minus 46 and minus 19 respectively for Cedar Rapids.
Cedar Rapids Superintendent Dave Benson was not available for comment on Thursday, but Marcia Hughes, community relations supervisor for the district, was able to provide additional insight about the cold weather calls.
“District decisions about delaying classes or closing schools due to inclement weather are never easy,” she wrote in an email to The Gazette. “Many variables are considered and several key people are consulted to make the best decision possible. These include our transportation and custodial and grounds managers, the other metro-area superintendents and local meteorologists. We understand that each family has unique circumstances so we encourage parents to make the best decision for their family.”
Aaron Hepker of KCRG contributed to this report.