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High temps cause schools to send kids home

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Washington Elementary School students try to stay cool Tuesday afternoon. Dixon schools do not have air conditioning and were let out early Tuesday, as were schools in Sterling and Rock Falls.
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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Students in Meg Penaflor's classroom at Washington Elementary School in Dixon stay as cool as can be by staying calm, reading and sitting in front of a fan.
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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
The library and computer lab at Washington Elementary School in Dixon are air-conditioned, so teachers spend extra time in these areas to help their students cool down.
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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Washington School students climbs on to Dana Harrison's school bus Tuesday afternoon as the Sterling School District school lets out early due to the excessive heat.

STERLING – At what point does it become too hot to learn?

Superintendents across the Sauk Valley asked that question Tuesday morning as forecasts called for highs in the 90s and heat indexes well above 100 in Sterling, Dixon and Rock Falls.

Many came to the same determination, dismissing students early, some for the second day in a row, to avoid the hotter portion of the afternoon. The high temperature of 97 degrees was reached in Sterling at around 2:10 p.m., according to reports from the National Weather Service.

Dixon Superintendent Michael Juenger witnessed a few classrooms during the latest heat wave and it weighed heavily on his mind when he called for an early dismissal of 1:15 p.m. Tuesday – an hour earlier than the district's regular dismissal.

Principals in the district's five schools kept tabs on classroom temperatures Monday and Tuesday. Because Monday evening temperatures did not provide much relief, it did not take long Tuesday for the district's buildings to heat up.

"When you look at the faces of the youngsters in the classrooms, you can tell there is nothing getting accomplished when it gets that hot," Juenger said. "There's not a whole lot of air flowing. Teachers are talking over fans. You start chasing your tail."

Sterling Public Schools dismissed its students 2 hours early. It was a decision Superintendent Tad Everett said he had made by 9 a.m., adding that classroom temperatures in Sterling High School reached the mid-90s.

"This decision was primarily based on the fact that the [high school's] second- and third-floor classrooms were unbearable today," Everett said, keeping his eye on other districts. "It's hard to maintain a quality learning environment when you're dripping wet."

While the high school is the only school building in the Sterling district without climate control, the entire district was dismissed early. Because of transportation and union issues, dismissals are made across the entire district, Everett said.

For students who attended more than 5 instructional hours, it counts as a day of attendance for the district and does not affect its general state aid, Juenger said.

Rock Falls High School dismissed its students at 1 p.m., Superintendent Ron McCord said. After starting at the usual 7:50 a.m., it counted as an attendance day. If the school had air conditioning in every classroom, it wouldn't have dismissed early, he added.

Sterling School District and Rock Falls District 13 didn't reach the 5-hour mark, but because the dismissal was due to weather, the day can be counted as an interrupted day and won't have to be made up.

General state aid funding is based on the number of days students are in the classroom.

The districts will have to wait until today to determine if they will let out early again.

A district is not supposed to decide to let out early for a weather-related issue until that day, in order to follow the state's guidelines, Juenger said.

"We’re strongly looking at the possibility of early dismissals the rest of the week," Everett said. "Tomorrow could be worse, because the buildings retain the heat."

With early dismissal, Dixon schools also canceled sports practices until after 7 p.m., Juenger said.

Sterling High School has a heat advisory plan for sports, which is also available to coaches on days the school doesn't dismiss early, Everett said.

The football team was scheduled to practice later in the day and under the lights and the golf team was allowed to use carts Monday, Everett said.

Relief does not appear to be in sight. Temperatures are expected to stay in the 90s until the weekend with plenty of sunshine. Forecasts for Thursday, Friday and Saturday call for a 10 percent chance of showers with a 30 percent chance of storms Sunday.

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