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An ‘act of God’ day for Sauk Valley schools?

District – out of bad weather days – have another option

Published: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

STERLING – If area superintendents cancel another school day because of bad weather, they may have another decision to make.

If school is canceled, superintendents will have 30 days to file a request for an “act of God day,” officials said.

On Tuesday, Sauk Valley Media reported that once schools use up their five emergency days, any additional cancellations would result in the school year being extended.

Bob Sondgeroth, regional superintendent for Whiteside County, said he had never – during his 10 years in the job – had to deal with schools using all of their emergency days.

Now that some schools have used all five of those days, they can apply for an “act of God day.” If approved by the regional superintendent and state board of education, he said, that would allow schools to not add an additional day and not lose state aid for the canceled day.

Paul McMahon, regional superintendent for Lee and Ogle counties, said Steward Elementary School District No. 220 already has used an “act of God day.”

In addition to the 5 emergency days used for the snow and cold, McMahon said, the school also had to cancel a day because it was without power.

An “act of God day” can be used only after all 5 emergency days have been used, McMahon said, and can be used for only an unforeseen issue.

Michael Juenger, superintendent of the Dixon schools, said the fact that the district is out of emergency days won’t factor into the decision to cancel school if the weather makes it a safety issue.

The decision for his district, he said, will be whether to apply for an “act of God day.”

“I think that’s certainly something that we’ll have to consider,” Juenger said. “We’ll consider all of the options. It’s important to educate the students, and I hate to take away from that.”

But, Juenger said, the district will also take into account the fact that families have made plans based on the scheduled end of the school year.

Tad Everett, superintendent of the Sterling schools, said in his 14 years with the school district, this is the first time it has used all five emergency days.

He said a decision to cancel school and whether to ask for an “act of God day” would be made after involving the school board and teachers unions.

“We will definitely discuss it as a board of education and administrative team,” he said. “But first and foremost, we will be making the decision on student and staff safety.”

If Sterling has to cancel another day of school, Everett’s recommendation to the school board will be to apply for an “act of God day,” he said. But his recommendation could change if more days are canceled.

Sondgeroth said schools will have 30 days to apply for an “act of God day.” He said he was in constant contact with his superintendents while they consider canceling school, so the superintendents will likely know whether their request will get approval at the local level before they make the decision.

If a regional superintendent approves the request for an “act of God day,” Sondgeroth said, it then goes to the state board of education for review. That board will likely side with the decision of the regional superintendent, who is more aware of the local weather conditions, he said.

If a district decides to cancel a day of school but not apply for an “act of God day,” the additional day doesn’t have to be at the end of the year, Sondgeroth said; schools could take it during spring break.

“It’s a possibility but very unlikely” that the makeup day would be scheduled for a Saturday, he said.

The five emergency days that Sterling has used, Everett said, don’t have to be made up at the end of the year, but can be done during the 9 days – including spring break and holidays – that the district doesn’t have scheduled for classes.

However, Everett said he isn’t in favor of using those nine days for that purpose this year because it hasn’t previously been discussed and it wouldn’t be fair to families of students and staff who have made plans.

That is a discussion Everett wants to have with the school board, teachers unions and community, he said, in the event a similar situation comes up in the future.

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