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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Cold doesn’t keep schools from opening on schedule

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MASSENA - The weather outside was chillingly frightful on Tuesday, with the overnight low hitting a new record of 25 below at Massena International Airport.

With just a few exceptions though, schools opened their doors on time.

On some social network sites, Massena-area parents were threatening to keep their children home from school rather than expose them to the cold while waiting for their bus or walking to school.

Massena Central School Interim Superintendent William W. Crist, however, said they did not see a significant decline in attendance.

“One (school) has less absentees than normal. The other four schools are slightly higher than normal,” he said.

Mr. Crist said they took the cold weather seriously in making their decision to open on time.

“We work very closely with our transportation, buildings and grounds and operations people either the night before or early in the day, around 4:30 or 5, to assess things,” he said.

They also monitor other schools to see what their plan is for the day.

“Our Transportation Department is in contact with other adjacent schools. It’s really to assess the situation,” Mr. Crist said.

Based on those discussions, they elected to keep the starting times intact.

“Obviously it was cold this morning, but it’s something that we certainly encourage and expect parents to use their own judgement. Obviously, first and foremost, dress for the elements,” Mr. Crist said. “Parents obviously are concerned about their kids. They need to be and should be. We do really assess things based on overall safety and conditions of transporting kids and expecting them to walk to school.

“If the roads aren’t clear, we certainly would not put our vehicles out, put our kids out or expect people to do that,” he said.

Buses went out as scheduled on their regular routes, according to the superintendent, but the drivers also made it a point to pick up walkers who wanted a ride if they saw them on the streets.

“Each route has an estimated pick-up time. That is an estimate based on road conditions. Kids and parents do know the approximate time that they’re to be picked up. Our concern in those situations is more for the walkers. Maybe they do have to be in the elements. If we see kids walking and there’s space on the bus, we do (pick them up) if it’s bitterly cold,” Mr. Crist said.

The Massena Police Department also picked up walkers on their way to school, according to Chief Timmy J. Currier.

“We patrol the areas around the schools. Anyone that was walking, we offered them a ride this morning,” he said. “It was kind of a unique situation because of the frigid cold at that time of the morning. We ended up giving rides to about 20 kids.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Crist said, it appeared more parents than usual dropped their students off at school.

“It looks like a higher volume of cars,” he said.

Mr. Crist said it’s a parent’s call if they elect to keep their child at home.

“In their judgement, they would assess whether they want to send their child to school. I do know we received calls from parents who had situations in their home with frozen pipes, etc. and weren’t equipped to get their children ready for school,” he said.

The guiding principle, he said, “is you want to be safe about how kids are getting to school and make your decisions based on safety and welfare. At the same time, we do rely on parents to make sure children are bundled appropriately.”

Once students arrived at school, the rooms were heated and ready to go, he said.

“All of our buildings were up to temperature by the time kids got in. Late in the morning the classroom temperatures were about 70 degrees. We were really able to bring all the buildings up to occupiable temperatures,” Mr. Crist said.

Potsdam Central School also opened its door on schedule, and Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said they also picked up students by bus, including those in the village who typically walked to school.

“For student safety, we do ensure they have the opportunity to ride buses if they are walkers. When we have such cold mornings, we do pick up all students in the village who would be walkers. Normally we pick up all elementary students anyway, but we would also pick up any middle schoolers,” Mr. Brady said.

“The bus drivers will stop if they see a student walking on the sidewalk and ask if they want a ride. Some take them up on the offer and others don’t. We do take those extra measures to try and ensure students aren’t out in the cold too long,” he said.

While he said they didn’t have any transportation issues, they had a couple of buses “that wanted to act sluggishly today.” The district’s maintenance staff also worked to get some rooms at the schools up to a warm temperature.

“We do on days like this have some heating problems in some of our rooms. I know our maintenance staff was working on particular rooms throughout the district today because of the cold. There were no problems that were a widespread issue,” Mr. Brady said.

Like Mr. Crist, he suggested parents needed to ensure their students were dressed appropriately for the weather.

“Students today don’t always dress appropriately for the weather. We encourage them and we encourage parents to reinforce that they do need to provide the appropriate clothing for the elements - hats, gloves, mittens, a warm jacket. I know sometimes with students, with older students particularly, it’s a matter of style and they don’t always dress as they should. But exposure at cold temperatures for a lengthy period of time could lead to frostbite,” he said.

“It is winter the north country and we’re going to have these kind of cold days. Students need to dress appropriately for the weather,” the superintendent suggested.

He said there are no guidelines that dictate what temperature would necessitate delaying or closing schools. It’s a judgement call based on safety, he said.

“There are no written guidelines in terms of a certain temperature threshold for delaying or closing school,” Mr. Brady said.

But, he said, they don’t want to begin a trend when school would be closed every time temperatures reached Tuesday’s levels because of the limited number of snow days the school has each year.

“Safety is paramount. If we start delaying and closing for minus 20 in our area this morning, that has the potential for many disruptions throughout the winter,” he said.

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