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Bloomington-Normal schools adjust for approaching winter storm

A school bus driver drives along a snow covered street during a heavy snow day in Chicago, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. The National Weather Service on Monday forecast up to 8 inches of snow for areas of northern Illinois and 5 inches in central Illinois. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh
Bloomington-Normal is now expected to see between 12 and 18 inches of snow by the time precipitation ends Thursday night, the National Weather Service said Tuesday morning.


Unit 5 and District 87 schools in Bloomington-Normal are keeping kids at home for at least the next two days as a severe winter storm moves into Illinois.

Bloomington District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly said both Wednesday and Thursday will be snow days, and he will decide whether to hold Friday classes as soon as possible. Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle said Wednesday will be an e-learning day and Thursday will be a snow day. Snow days will be made up at the end of the school year.

Reilly said the decision to cancel classes relates to the pandemic as well as the weather.

“We are concerned about the number of staff members that are affected by COVID,” said Reilly. “Our number of subs is still not the best. We are filling about half of our classes where staff are absent with substitute teachers, the others are covered by members of our staff. When you shift to an e-learning environment, that becomes much more difficult to manage that coverage when you don't have the right number of substitutes.”

Unit 5 cited concerns about potential power outages as part of the decision to split the difference between e-learning and cancellation.

“Some of the things we have to consider, would be the ice that might come and the connectivity. Based on all of the predictions that we've seen so far, we do anticipate our families will be able to connect, but if for some reason they're not, we would rather than have one day of work to get caught up on versus two days,” said Weikle.

Weikle said there was little point to deferring the decision on Thursday classes until Wednesday.

“We are fairly certain we will need to be out Thursday because of the amount of snow that we're anticipating. The road crews I know will be working really hard. But the reality is they're not going to be able to get to all of our county roads and all of the residential neighborhoods, to make it possible for families to get out for students to walk to school, and or to the bus stop,” said Weikle.

Reilly echoed that, saying schools do not always get this much advance warning of weather events, but in this case the predictions are solid.

Since the pandemic forced districts to hone their e-learning systems, one might expect full cancellations to become rare or non-existent. Reilly said without the substitute shortage, District 87 would likely have had an e-learning day. But he said there will always be a potential need for full snow days.

“It's not always easy for teachers to move to those environments. We're talking about a snowstorm that is so significant, it would make it difficult, if not impossible for some or many to get to their buildings to be in an environment where we have really good internet connections and the equipment, instead of being in a home.

"These folks have families themselves. Trying to scramble to get daycare for little ones can be really tough. And you don't want that interrupting the learning environment. So there are many factors that go into that decision,” said Reilly.

Unit 5 and District 87 both asked parents to pay attention to district communications in case the weather requires a Friday schedule adjustment.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.