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Frigid Temps Force School Closures Across Chicago Area

Dozens of schools canceled classes Thursday as temperatures dipped below zero across the greater Chicago area. (Chicago Tonight)

More than 170 schools in the greater Chicago area were closed or delayed their starting times Thursday due to subzero temperatures and bitter wind chills. But even as temperatures plunge below zero this week, Chicago Public School students probably shouldn’t count on any extra time off leading up to their holiday break.

The district announced late Wednesday classes inside its 650-plus schools would indeed be in session Thursday despite the frigid weather.

“Our highest priority is the safety of students and staff, and we are closely monitoring the weather to help ensure that holding class is in the best interest of students,” the district said in a Facebook post Wednesday.

School engineers have planned heating system checkups across the district, according to CPS, which said its Safe Passage program would remain in service and school buses would be started early to make sure they’re warm enough for students.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory across much of northern Illinois Thursday morning, including all of Cook County and Chicago. Wind chills were expected to dip as low as 15 to 25 degrees below zero – conditions the NWS says can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

The temperature got as low as minus 2 at Chicago-O’Hare International by 10 a.m. Thursday, with a wind chill of 20 below.

Winter may not technically begin until next Wednesday, but snowstorms dumped a half-foot of snow in some parts of the city last weekend and temperatures could get as low as minus 8 degrees this Sunday night.

CPS students have a full week of classes next week leading up to their winter break, which begins Dec. 26 and runs until Jan. 9.

A polar vortex in early 2014 brought in bitterly cold temperatures across Chicago that forced schools to close for days at a time. But CPS opted not to keep school buildings open for children with no place else to go, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel citing concerns over the “public health” and safety of students.

The district reversed course the following year, keeping all school buildings open to accept students who showed up. CPS also recommends students and parents look into nearby Chicago Public Library or Chicago Park District facilities, which often remain open even in bad weather.

CPS notifies families of school closures through automated calls, emails and its social media accounts, and in February, the district said each school has its own snow removal plan to make sure sidewalks and parking lots are clear for students and staff.

Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @ByMattMasterson

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