BLOOMINGTON — While most McLean County schools closed due to overnight temperatures as low as 9 degrees below zero and wind chills as low 26 degrees below Thursday morning, two districts kept their classrooms open.
Bloomington's District 87 and Illinois State University Lab Schools opened while other districts, including McLean County Unit 5, Olympia and Tri-Valley, closed for a second day after closing for Wednesday's frigid conditions.
“There is a big difference with (districts) with few square miles and those with many," said District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly. "My bus routes are located within the city of Bloomington. ... If there's an issue, dispatch can get another bus out there very quickly."
No area school districts cancelled Friday classes as of Thursday night, although the National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory from 3 a.m. Friday to noon Saturday. While the high temperature Friday is expected to be 5 degrees, wind will make it feel like 15 below to 20 below.
McLean County Unit 5 is planning to open schools on Friday with buses running on a regular schedule, according to the district's Facebook page Thursday evening. Officials noted road conditions have improved, and although bitterly cold weather continues, conditions have improved somewhat.
A decision to close would be announced by 5 a.m.
The district said it would respect a parent's decision to keep a child home, however.
District 87 — which occupies about 10 square miles, versus more than 200 for Normal-based Unit 5 — enlisted help to ensure the safety of students who took the bus or attempted to walk to school Thursday.
“I put in place a plan working with resource officers, the Bloomington Police Department, bus drivers and our bus company (Illinois Central Bus Co.) to be out and about watching for kids who were walking and making sure buses were on time," Reilly said. "If they were not (on time), we had a plan for resource officers to pick up kids at a bus stop. Fortunately we didn’t have to do that."
Reilly said "resource officers picked up 10 students between the junior high and high school age and brought those kids to school,” and “we got everybody safely to school who came today.”
“I monitor the weather and look at a lot of different things: temperature, wind chill, snow on the ground and snow blowing on the roads,” Reilly said of deciding to open. “I’m also connected to crisis planners at State Farm, ISU and other organizations in the community.”
ISU's lab schools — University High and Thomas Metcalf, which serves kindergarten to eighth grade — don't operate buses, which Superintendent Jeff Hill said gives them "one variable we don’t have to be concerned about" when choosing to operate.
Instead, the district adjusted for students and parents who might be uncomfortable driving to school on Thursday morning.
“We minimized the amount of walking our students would do from their cars, especially for juniors and sophomores. With the university not in session, there was parking available closer to school,” Hill said.
While "80 percent of (lab school) students are from within the Bloomington-Normal city limit area,” Hill said, he also was cognizant of those who would need to drive in on country roads that were more likely to be more treacherous, especially because of blowing snow.
“We made it clear to our parents if they were uncomfortable sending their student to school or themselves bringing the student, they should call our offices at U High and Metcalf and the students would be excused,” Hill said.
Reilly said District 87 will add a day to the end of the school year, on June 1, to make up for Wednesday's closure.
“We haven’t decided how we’re going to handle that one yet, but that’s typically what we’ve done in the past," said Hill, referring to adding a day to the end of the current school year.