PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s a cold morning at the bus stop today but it will be much colder on Friday.
No one monitors these diving temperatures more than school principals who have to decide whether or not to cancel or adjust schools.
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It’s the kind of decision superintendents hate because no matter what they decide to do, someone will be upset.
“The weather forecast certainly has my attention,” Penn Hills Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hines said.
Hines has one priority at times like this: the “safety of children awaiting transportation.”
She said the general guideline is zero degrees, but “if I say zero, is that with or without wind chill? The nuances continue from there.
Dr Hines said she also had to weigh the impact on students if classes were cancelled, using the word ‘stability’.
“We just got our kids into a really solid routine and I hate disrupting that routine,” she said. “I’m telling you, it’s so important. I think districts across the country reported a spike in disruptive behavior at the start of the school year.
It doesn’t just cancel an entire day of classes, it also implements a two-hour deadline that can disrupt those routines as well.
“Is the temperature significantly different at 7:30 a.m. than at 9:30 a.m.?” asks Dr. Hines. “So when you’re two hours late, what’s really the difference?” It may be daytime, so that makes a difference.
As schools adapted during the pandemic, a new option emerged – leaving children home for a flexible day of instruction, but even that has limits.
“These are capped at a maximum of five for the school year,” Dr Hines explained. “We used it on a Tuesday, so we have to take that into account.”
Not to mention that parents have already had to deal with closed schools on Monday and Tuesday.
“So if you’re a working parent, oh my God, how do you handle all of this?” She asks. “I am inclined to keep the doors open for the benefit of the parents and for the children to have stability.”
The bottom line: Superintendents are in a no-win situation.
“I hate winter… I hate winter, it’s so hard to judge,” Dr Hines said.
READ MORE: Pittsburgh Weather: Freezing Temperatures End Week
No matter what a superintendent decides, someone is going to be unhappy and if the neighboring district makes a different choice, it’s just fuel for the heat they’re going to catch.
In the end it is student safety that is the deciding factor, but also with low temperatures the ability to start and run buses could leave students at the bus stop even longer long time.
WATCH: Waiting at the bus stop in the cold
If children are left at the bus stop for a long time, what risk might they face?
It’s certainly not a problem whether you’re an adult or a child, but like the elderly, Dr. Brent Rau of Allegheny General Hospital, children are more susceptible to extreme cold.
“They have trouble regulating their body temperature,” Dr. Rau explained. “Just physiologically, it’s harder for those extreme ages to do that.”
Dr. Rau says caution is advised and the risk varies.
“It varies with each child, depends on the weight of the child, but a lot will depend on how many diapers they wear,” Dr. Rau said. “Really, every bit of exposed skin needs to be covered as best it can.”
He explained that it takes 30 minutes for frostbite to set in and once you add the wind chill, that time goes down.
“So all of a sudden that half hour before frostbite can very quickly get closer to 15 minutes if the wind is blowing, so wind chill plays a role,” he said.
Dr Rau also explained that it was not just about children at the bus stop on school days.
“It’s really going to be everyone having to huddle together and stay out of the cold,” he said.
Whether it’s a kid at the bus stop or an adult outside for whatever reason, once you feel the tingle and things start to go numb, put on warm and avoid a hot shower or hot fire to thaw.
“You don’t wanna do the thing [when you] run the water as hot as you can, because you won’t be able to tell how hot it is if your skin has been exposed to the cold for that long,” Dr. Rau explained. “By the time you do, then you might get a second-degree burn from the hot water.”
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Instead, he recommends using a lukewarm heat source and warming up slowly, and if your child has to get to the bus stop in the morning, do everything you can to minimize their time outside.