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Bitter Cold, Snow, and Ice Force Thousands of School Closings

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A powerful winter storm that brought bitter cold, snow, and ice across the eastern half of the country last week shut down thousands of schools from Minnesota to Maine.

Bus routes slick with ice, power outages, and wind-chilled temperatures that plummeted to 70 degrees below zero in some areas caused many school systems to cancel classes for the first time in decades.

For the first time in Minnesota history, Gov. Arne Carlson ordered the state's 1,511 public schools closed last Tuesday, when the temperature dropped to 26 below zero.

"It's just plain dangerous to be out; it's unbearably cold,'' Joe Pendal, a spokesman for the Governor, said. "When the Governor got the word that flesh could freeze in under a minute,'' he decided to close the schools, Mr. Pendal added. "He was very concerned for the safety of children waiting outside at bus stops.''

Though Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania stopped short of ordering schools closed, he declared a state of disaster last week, and most of the state's 501 districts voluntarily shut down, Gary Tuma, the spokesman for the state board of education, said.

Most of Kentucky's school districts closed last week because of snow and cold, and all but essential state highways were closed because of hazardous conditions.

Urban Systems Shut Down

Chicago's superintendent ordered all of the city's 550 schools to close for most of last week, citing "arctic'' conditions, and urban school systems up and down the East Coast were closed because of electricity shortages.

Water-main breaks in Atlanta flooded some schools and forced shutdowns of that district as well.

In Michigan, where the problem was mainly blowing snow, most of the state's 524 public school districts closed last Wednesday because of cold weather, according to the state department of education. Some school districts, such as Detroit, did not know last week when they would reopen, and they have assigned additional custodial personnel to make sure that buildings are properly insulated.

In the Anchor Bay district in northern Michigan, the schools were open, but insufficient heat meant some students had to take their final exams bundled up in coats to stay warm, said Bob Harris, the district's spokesman.

Editorial Assistant Christy J. Zink contributed to this story.

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