Chicago Public Schools canceled classes for its 400,000 students Monday as the city prepares for brutally cold weather and wind chills as low as 40 degrees below zero.
The last time CPS called off classes at its more than 600 schools was earlier this month, during another spell of dangerously cold weather on Jan. 5 and 6.
School officials took some heat over their timing of the announcement during the earlier cold snap, with some parents complaining CPS waited too long.
This time, some parents were clearly unhappy about another scramble to figure out what to do their kids on Monday.
“They gotta have a better plan,” said Paolo Urizar, 40, whose 7-year-old daughter goes to Walt Disney Magnet School. “They need to provide an alternative for parents — make it a day care.”
“How does Alaska deal with this cold? How about Minnesota?” he asked. “It’s inevitable, and we don’t know how to predict it, but they need to provide an alternative. Our tax dollars are paying for it.”
CPS officials said the dangerous weather left them little choice.
“The safety and well-being of our students is paramount,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said. “The decision to close schools is never easy. However, based on the severity of the weather we are expecting Monday, I am confident that this decision is in the best interest of CPS students.”
Forecasters predict Monday’s high temperature will stay between 1 below zero and 5 below zero, which will feel more like 20 to 30 below with the wind chill, according to the National Weather Service.
Overnight lows will fall between 18 and 22 degrees below zero, when wind chill values could sink to minus 40 degrees, according to the weather service.
Tuesday might be even colder, and wind chills could feel like minus 40 degrees at the time students would be arriving at school, CPS officials said.
CPS will continue to monitor weather conditions and decide by noon Monday whether to resume classes as scheduled on Tuesday, the release said.
Monday will be the third day this school year students will stay home from class — equaling the total number of school days called off for weather between 2009 and 2013, CPS spokesman Joel Hood said.
Students stayed home for two days during the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011, and for one day in 2009 because of cold temperatures.
“This is very unusual, that’s for sure,” Hood said.
Old Town resident Terri Nevins said the closure does create an inconvenience for some parents.
“However, you understand why they do it,” said Nevins, whose 13-year-old son is a seventh-grader at Whitney M. Young High School. “With the wind chill and the weather, it’s tough.”
Nevins said CPS set a precedent during the last subzero cold snap. As a result they obligated themselves to close again as the dangerous cold returns.
Nevins said the closure won’t impact her family.
“I’ll be fine, but some families won’t,” she said.
The Archdiocese of Chicago said in a release that local leaders of the city’s Catholic schools will make individual decisions on whether to open Monday.
A wind chill warning for the entire Chicago area is in effect from 3 a.m. Monday to 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The city won’t see relief from the arctic chill until Wednesday, when highs will reach 14 to 18 degrees, forecasters say.
Many suburban schools and school districts have already canceled classes for Monday. Colleges and universities closed Monday include Northeastern Illinois University, The John Marshall Law School and Kendall College in Chicago; Aurora University in Aurora; Judson University in Elgin; and Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana and all Northern Illinois University campuses. Valparaiso has also canceled classes Tuesday.
City Colleges of Chicago and all 18 Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago are also closed Monday because of the weather.
Some of the city’s cultural institutions also plan to keep their doors shut Monday. The Shedd Aquarium will also be closed to visitors, but the museum will honor pre-purchased tickets at a later date, its website said.
The Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry will also be closed Monday. The Lincoln Park Zoo will close at 3 p.m., but some portions of the zoo housing small mammals, reptiles and birds as well as its gift shop will be closed all day.
Though cancellations might send parents scrambling for child care, a new study by the Harvard Kennedy School argues weather-related school closures are less detrimental to student achievement than presumed.
Using seven years worth of data on Massachusetts schoolchildren, study author Joshua Goodman concludes tacking extra days onto the school year to make up for cancellations is less disruptive than teachers having to catch up individual students who stay home when schools remain open.
Nora Burton, a 31-year-old suburban schoolteacher, said her classes had already been canceled when CPS made the closure announcement.
Now she gets to spend the day off with her son Manny, 6, who is a student at Hibbard Elementary School.
“It’s great for me,” she said. Plus, she added, “It’s cold and people don’t bundle up their kids the way they should.”
Her son seemed fine with the day off, describing it as “awesome.”
When asked what he wanted to do, the 6-year-old shouted: “Play video games.”
To which his mother added, “and read books.”