Hundreds of Chicago area schools will remain closed Thursday for the second straight day as an arctic freeze grips the snow-battled region.
From Chicago to Gurnee and Naperville, school superintendents cancelled classes as they cited impassable roads, school parking lots blanketed in snow and dangerously cold weather.
Temperatures were expected to drop as low as 15 degrees below zero overnight with wind chills down to 25 or 35 degrees below zero, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a wind chill watch through Thursday morning.
Officials with the Archdiocese of Chicago also urged its 256 schools across Cook and Lake counties to remain closed for a second day.
Acting Chicago Public Schools CEO Terry Mazany, joining Orozco and other city officials at a news conference at the city's 911 center, said schools might also stay closed Friday. The schools will remain closed Thursday because of the difficulty teachers and students will have traveling Mazany said.
Bus service will resume no sooner than Monday, Mazany added.
Several school districts that do plan to resume classes will open later Thursday. In the south suburbs, for instance, Lincoln-Way High School District 210 cautioned students and parents that buses would run 90 minutes late.
“One of our biggest concerns is the air temperatures tomorrow and how cold it is going to be,” said spokesman Tony Sanders of Elgin’s School District U-46 , which cancelled classes for a second consecutive day. Half of the district’s 41,000 students walk to school. The others ride the bus, often waiting at school bus stops as early as 6:30 a.m.
Chicago Public Schools cancelled classes for the second day in an unusual move on account of massive snow drifts, difficult travel conditions and several power outages. The snow day marked only the second time in 12 years that city officials have called off school.
CPS officials were unable to “ensure that schools will be safely accessible for students and staff” Thursday, according to district spokeswoman Monique Bond.
City schools last closed for two days during the Blizzard of 1999, on Jan. 4 and 5 of that year. When classes resumed, school buses still were not able to reach students, forcing many parents to drive or walk their children their children to classes, creating havoc with their morning schedules. In some cases, parents were told to drop their kids off at the nearest neighborhood school if they couldn’t get them to their regular classes.
Since then, the nation’s third-largest school system has opted to keep school doors open to provide shelter and meals to the city’s neediest students. Interim Schools CEO Terry Mazany again urged administrators, engineers and custodians to report to schools on Thursday if possible.
“In such extreme weather, we are more than just a school for many of our families: we are a place for warmth, for food, and much more,” Mazany wrote Wednesday in an email to district staff. Mazany had made the same request on Wednesday in an effort to ensure students could find food and warmth if they reported to school. But no students arrived and many principals were not able to travel to school.
King College Prep High School Principal Jeff Wright donned cross country skies to commute from his home to the Kenwood campus on Wednesday morning. School officials set out breakfasts of cold cereal and juice for any students who arrived. Engineers shoveled snow embankments, cleared sidewalks and ensured the heat kept running. They stayed open through lunch, but students never came.
Still, Wright said it was worthwhile.“With power outages and other things that could go wrong at home, schools may be the safest shelters in the neighborhood,” Wright said.
Tara Malone, Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and Joel Hood)