How cold is too cool for school? Here’s how area school districts decide

Officials from Centre County school districts often collaborate to make a decision on school delays or cancellations due to harsh weather or cold temperatures.
Officials from Centre County school districts often collaborate to make a decision on school delays or cancellations due to harsh weather or cold temperatures. Centre Daily Times, file photo

Cold temperatures often prompt people to gather in a group to warm themselves. When it comes to keeping local students safe and warm, area superintendents gather in a group of their own to try and make a joint decision about how their districts will handle the cold.

School officials from State College, Bellefonte, Bald Eagle and Penns Valley area school districts all confirmed that, on mornings with extreme temperatures, they hold a conference call to try and coordinate their decisions for the school day.

Many school districts use the same general resources and that is why they attempt to make a joint decision, although each district has the right to make a decision on their own.

“We try to go with the group, but we still maintain the final decision,” said Brian Griffith, Penns Valley Area superintendent.

While each district guarded against providing an exact temperature that triggers a two-hour delay or cancellation, each has a general temperature that they view as unsafe.

State College will consider a delay or cancellation if the actual temperature is minus 5 or a wind chill that is minus 20. Bellefonte policy is triggered when there is a sustained wind chill that is minus 20 or lower. BEA said that it becomes a serious concern when the wind chill is minus 10 or lower. Penns Valley had the lowest threshold of the group at a wind chill of minus 35.

Griffith said wind chill temperatures of minus 35 can cause frostbite on exposed skin in 10 minutes, which is another factor he adds into the decision-making process.

When gathering information about the situation, all school districts use weather sources such as the National Weather Service and AccuWeather. They also contact PennDOT, local municipalities, transportation staffs, view radar and collect first-hand experience.

“It’s an informed decision. It’s based on a lot of input and he (State College Superintendent Bob O’Donnell) tries very hard to get as much information as possible to make the most informed decision that he can,” said Chris Rosenblum, State College Area director of communication.

Ken Bean, director of fiscal affairs for Bellefonte, said the school district attempts to make a decision on a two-hour delay by 5:15 a.m. and a decision on a cancellation by 7 a.m. State College prefers to make its decision before 5:30 a.m., and BEA tries to alert families by 5 a.m., according to Superintendent Jeff Miles.

Griffith said he prefers to hold off on making a decision because in the past there have been times when he has called for a delay or cancellation only to have the forecast not materialize.

“I’m not in favor of a two-hour delay unless the weather will materially improve,” Griffith said. “If our buildings are functioning, meaning they’re warm, and our equipment is functioning, then we intend to have school.”

After all the analytical data is compiled, the district decision-makers all take time to consider the health and safety of their students, which is their primary concern throughout the entire process.

“The goal for us is we want kids to be in class and learning. We weigh that against safety considerations,” Rosenblum said. “In the end, safety always comes out first. We would rather have children safe.”

An official from Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District could not be reached for comment.