Student Well-Being

The Polar Vortex Is Just Another Thorn in Chicago’s Side

By Ross Brenneman — January 06, 2014 1 min read
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Pity Chicago.

As the rare weather event known as a “polar vortex” crawls across the United States, the Windy City is living up to its nickname; the temperature across the Midwest has reached minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind chill is pushing the real temperature to lower than minus 50 degrees.

How cold is that? Colder, on average, than Antarctica in summer.

It’s also cold enough that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton shuttered every school in the state today, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, while refraining from such action, urged districts to take caution. Indeed, for most states, a mandate would be by-and-large repetitive: Illinois schools? Closed. Iowa schools? Closed. Michigan schools? Closed.

Here’s what it looks like across the United States:

And that brings us back to Chicago, because, yes, schools close when it gets too cold or too snowy, but they can also close for the opposite reason, as happened earlier this year in Chicago during a particularly brutal heat wave. Many of the district’s schools closed due to a lack of capable air conditioning.

Chicago has been waging a long battle against truancy, and as Catalyst Chicago documented in September, Chicago’s attendance problems start early and tend to continue. Meanwhile, pathways to school can be dangerous enough to warrant a “safe passage” system, but that’s not always enough to overcome safety fears.

After those struggles, bad weather is just one more thing to deal with. But the city’s four seasons leave Chicago open to every temperature issue, and taken in combination with the district’s regular absenteeism struggles, it becomes a leading candidate for Most Difficult Time Getting Children to School.

It’s not an award worth winning.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.