Brandywine, Niles and Buchanan schools closed for a week during cold snap

NILES — Last week, school administrators across Niles, Brandywine and Buchanan decided to close school doors for a week during the duration of a snowstorm and brutal cold spell that plunged temperatures well below zero.

On Monday, students returned, filling the halls and classrooms again.

Brandywine Community Schools Superintendent Karen Weimer and Niles Community School District Superintendent Dan Applegate said a lot of evaluation goes into deciding whether or not to issue a snow day. Both said a major factor in the decision is student safety.

“We want to make sure that our kids are safe,” Weimer said. “We were fortunate that our buses were able to start, but sometimes that can be an issue.”

When severe weather is on the horizon, administrators will plan to meet in the evening or early before school starts to decide if schools need to be closed. School leaders will also talk with a county emergency manager, transportation departments, as well as Lake Michigan College and schools in Cass County.

“It is really a coordinated effort,” Applegate said. “There are probably 20 to 30 people taking a look at the roads and the conditions and the forecast.”

With last week’s cold spell, Applegate said they also took into account the state of emergency issued by the governor. With temperatures forecasted to plunge to below zero and with even colder wind chills expected on Wednesday and Thursday, Weimer said it was a “no brainer” to choose to close.

“It was not safe for our kids to be outside in that,” Weimer said.

Applegate said getting information out as quick as possible is a major priority.

“We know it can be an inconvenience to families, but we try to communicate it as soon as we can with them,” Applegate said. “We really try to do the best we can, but predicting the weather — good luck with that.”

Brandywine and Niles have had seven snow days this school year. Weimer said the Brandywine district would be applying for a waiver from the state in the hopes that students do not have to make up class time this summer. The state permits six forgiven days missed and can allow an additional three days.

“We are going to be looking into what we have to do to apply for that waiver,” Weimer said.

Applegate said the Niles district is considering applying for a waiver from the state to forgive missed days.

Buchanan Community School District Superintendent Tim Donahue declined to comment for the story.

Throughout the snow days, teachers and administrators got creative with announcing school closures. A number responded to a social media challenge to create a video or song about the snow day situation. Brandywine Middle and High School assistant principal Josh Hood created a snow day rap, which quickly garnered more than 90,000 views. Others found ways to engage with their students even though they were not in the classroom. Eastside Connections principal Joe Racht created a video to help students learn facts about cold weather. Racht also encouraged students to take part in snow day challenges, such as writing a thank you letter to first responders. Brandywine Elementary principal Jim Boger wrote a song about how sad he was that students were not there. Ballard Elementary principal Jeron Blood created a music video to announce a snow day to the tune of “Friday” by Rebecca Black.

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