Consider the following safety hazards before keeping your school open in extreme weather.
School officials – how do you know if it’s too cold for school? Just because there isn’t snow on the ground doesn’t mean there aren’t winter hazards that your students could be exposed to. The decision to close your school can be a tough one, considering the fact that there are no real national or state guidelines for closings and delays.
There’s also the reality that many children rely on your school for breakfast and lunch, and if it closes, will there be a guardian or sitter at home with the child? How do you know when it’s time for your school district to close its doors? There are many factors to weigh when making your decision, but the first thing to consider is wind chill.
According to the National Weather Service, wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin due to cold temperature and wind. When facing higher winds, more heat is drawn from the body and skin temperature begins to drop. In other words, it’s how cold you feel when you’re outside. Because some students walk to school or have to wait outside at a bus stop, wind chill is nothing to overlook.
Take wind chill alerts issued by the National Weather Service seriously, and keep them in mind when making the final call on school closures. Alerts consist of the following:
- Wind chill advisory: Issued when seasonably cold wind chill values, but not extremely cold values, are expected or occurring.
- Wind chill watch: Issued when dangerously cold wind chill values are possible.
- Wind chill warning: Issued when dangerously cold wind chill values are expected or occurring.
When temperatures and wind chill drop to a certain point, your students could be exposed to serious and even fatal health risks. These risks include frostbite and hypothermia. Use the National Weather Service’s wind chill chart to educate yourself on the dangerous mix of winter winds and temperatures, and to determine how quickly frostbite might occur.
Is your property prepared?
It’s important to additionally examine whether your property is prepared for cold weather. If overlooked, not only are you putting your students at risk, but your school could potentially face a PR crisis. For example, earlier this year Baltimore schools faced backlash for keeping school open despite having heating issues.
At the beginning of the year, Baltimore schools drew criticism from parents and guardians when photos showing children wearing coats, hats and gloves indoors went viral. It was so bad Aaron Maybin, former NFL linebacker who now teaches in the city, published an Instagram video that featured him instructing students to rub their hands together for warmth. He also commented that temperatures dropped to 40 degrees indoors. Outdated heating systems, poor insulation and older pipes can make it a challenge when trying to combat frigid temperatures, so inspect your property and ensure winter preparedness before chilly weather arrives.
Educate your students
If school remains open, are your students educated on winter safety? Holding an assembly to review best practices for winter weather conditions can go a long way. This is the perfect time to review frostbite and hypothermia, and focus on warning signs, treatment and prevention. Reviewing prevention can also lead to another discussion – dressing for extreme cold. Use these tips suggested by the National Weather Service as a starting point:
- Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing.
- Wear a hat. Try to stay dry and out of the wind.
- Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.
- Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
Don’t forget about parents and guardians. Share these tips with them and allow extra coats, hats and gloves to be stored on school grounds in the event that they’re needed. Because every family is in a different place financially, hosting a coat drive could also be a great opportunity to better protect your students against extreme conditions.
What about recess?
If possible, schedule recess to occur during the warmest part of the day and only allow students who are properly dressed to head outside. If temperatures and wind speed are severe, don’t let that be the reason for cancelling everyone’s favorite “class.” Indoor recess is a great alternative to outdoor play. It'll keep your students warm and active, and can be just as fun!
Richie Almeida, Marketing
Richie is an avid movie goer with an addiction to Sour Patch Kids. If he isn’t at the movies, he is at the gym or on a hike trying to make up for his bad eating habits.