259 clarifies decision to have school

Wichita school officials say they received a handful of complaints but no reports of injuries or accidents after their decision to hold classes despite Thursday's record-breaking low temperatures.

"We had some late buses, which... we knew would be the case," said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman.

"The fact is, weather is unpredictable," she said. "When we checked the forecast yesterday we saw negative wind chills, but crews also checked road and building conditions and other things.... We take several factors into account."

On Feb. 3 the Wichita school district called off school for the third day in a row, citing concerns that young children might wait in frigid temperatures for buses that could run late on snowy roads. The temperature that morning was minus 6, with wind chills of minus 15 to minus 20.

Thursday the temperature fell to minus 17 in Wichita at 6:21 a.m.

District officials announced at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday — earlier than usual — that schools would have all regular classes and activities Thursday. Calls, e-mails and a message on the district's weather hotline urged parents to make sure children were dressed appropriately for cold weather.

Parents of children who ride the bus — about 20,000 of the district's 50,000 students — were urged to keep students inside or "wait with your child at the stop in a car until the bus arrives, if at all possible."

Arensman said the district did not reconsider its decision early Thursday, as is sometimes the case "when the forecast keeps changing."

Scott Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita, said forecasters were surprised when temperatures plunged to their lowest readings in more than 20 years.

"We weren't expecting to go this low," Smith said.

Arensman said school officials received some complaints Thursday about children waiting or walking in the cold.

She said the fact that the district has exhausted this year's snow day allowance was not a factor in the decision to have classes.

"We know we still have February to get through, and sometimes March is a problem," she said. "We make each decision independently, and that's why we said we'll re-evaluate the issue of makeup days once we get through the winter months."

Board member Betty Arnold said she gets more calls from parents who struggle to find child care when school is canceled, or who want the district to make weather decisions earlier.

"We try to do what is in the best interest of the students in terms of their safety," Arnold said. "Regardless, there's going to be a segment of parents that are going to be upset with us."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle