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Why did Oxford stand alone in the cold?



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January 29, 2014 - Even the best weathermen with all their technology can't predict what Mother Nature will do, which is why Oxford Schools were open last Friday when all surrounding districts were closed.

Many districts announced closings Thursday night based on a wind chill advisory that had much higher winds and lower wind chills than actually occurred on Friday morning. When Superintendent Dr. William Skilling spoke with Transportation Director Bruce Biebuyck around 5:30 a.m. Friday, the temperature was 3 degrees with a wind chill of -11 degrees. The rule of thumb for Oxford as well as many other districts in the county is temperatures with a wind chill between -20 and -25.

"As superintendent, I decided to wait and base my decision on the actual temperature and wind chills on Friday morning as to whether we would have school," Skilling said. "I was not going to use 'school district peer pressure' to close our school district when our wind chill was nowhere near -20 degrees and the new forecast called for high winds to arrive in the late afternoon when the temperatures would be higher."

Temperature gauge

"Oxford Community Schools uses -20 degrees unless we are not able to get our buses started," he continued. "Since we do not have engine block heaters, it is more difficult for us to get our buses started once we dip below -15 degrees."

Skilling also talked with Lapeer Community Schools Superintendent Matt Wandrie who said they would have held school today if they wouldn't have had pipes burst in two of their buildings.

Another factor for Oxford Schools to determining whether to close school is on the amount of time it will take for exposed kin to become frostbitten in low wind chills.

"When we are within the 30-minute time period for skin to become frostbitten during the morning bus run, which is approximately -20 degrees, we will close school," Skilling said. "We are not as likely to close school if the coldest time period is at the end of the school day unless temperatures are -20 to -25 degrees."

"By Friday morning, the forecast had changed from having higher winds in the morning to having higher winds in the late afternoon when the temperatures would be warmer," Skilling said. "When we had our elementary afternoon bus run on Friday, the temperature was 8 degrees with wind chills of -10 degrees. The afternoon run is a little less concerning than the morning run because students are not waiting at a bus stop in the afternoon. Therefore, they have less potential exposure time."

If Oxford was going to close school based on Friday's temperatures, than Skilling said they would have had to close school earlier in the week on Monday and Tuesday when temperatures were even colder.

"If we were to use Friday's wind chill as the new baseline for closing school, we would be well over the number of days we are allotted already," he added. "We had other mornings this month that were colder than it was on Friday."

Absence and safety

The allotted amount is six days before they have to start making up days. According to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Nancy Latowski, district-wide there have been six snow days so far with the exception of Leonard Elementary who has an additional two bringing their total to eight days.

No matter how many snow days they have, Latowski said they would always cancel school based on the safety of students.

"I am sure there will more days that we will have to strongly consider (closing,) but we don't take it lightly and we really do evaluate everything that we can when we make those decisions. We do care about safety of the students, but we also have to look at providing that education."

Regardless of what the district's guidelines are for calling off school, Skilling said parents have the final say.

"It is always up to the parents to determine whether or not they want to send their student to school," he said. "And be responsible to make sure their student is dressed properly for the weather conditions of a given day."

Facebook comments

Speaking of parents, many responded to the Oxford Community School's Facebook page to weigh in on the open school day.

Jennifer Wilkie White said "Kids need to toughen up a bit."

"It's winter. Wear clothes and quit whining," she wrote "The schools absolutely did the right thing."

Ron Karalus believes it was a "great decision."

"We have had colder days when all schools in Oakland county were open. (It) looks like they (other school districts) jumped the gun on the anticipation of -25 degree wind chill," he said. "It wasn't even windy when the bus came this morning."

However, Nicole Zimmermann McGeachy, who is an Orion resident and sends her kids to Oxford, disagreed. She was "extremely disappointed" with the decision and decided to keep her kids home for the day.

"I send my children to Oxford because that is where we used to live! I have been toying with the idea of transferring them to LO next year anyway but if this disregard for their safety in the cold weather keeps up I will definitely be making the transfer," McGeachy wrote. "I would rather have my kids make up a couple days than (have) something happen to them in the dangerous cold!"

"588 schools closed because they care about the welfare of the students," wrote Colleen Rose Speer. "Oxford School officials lack common sense."

Final word

Whether it was right or wrong , Skilling said he has "no regrets" about the decision. "Oxford Community Schools will not close due to what other school districts' decide in our area," he said. "We will base it on actual conditions of our community roads and/or temperatures."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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