Columbia Public Schools has new heat dismissal policy

Friday, July 18, 2008 | 2:05 p.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools will implement a new dismissal procedure for extreme heat days this year.

The system will only dismiss those schools without air conditioning on days that are deemed too hot for classes to be in session.

Currently, there are eight Columbia schools that still do not have complete air-conditioning systems: Cedar Ridge, Lee, New Haven, Ridgeway, Midway and Two-Mile Prairie elementary schools and West and Jefferson junior high schools. Under the new procedures, when an early dismissal is needed because of heat, the two junior high schools will dismiss at 11:30 a.m., and the six elementary schools will dismiss at 12:30 p.m. Meanwhile, the remaining schools will be dismissed at their normal time.

Students attending those schools that are let out early will be served lunch before dismissal.

Previously, on days of extreme heat, all schools would follow a “stacked” dismissal procedure — meaning schools district-wide would dismiss systematically, starting with elementary schools and working up, Baumstark said.

Michelle Baumstark, school and community programs and communications coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said that students who are dismissed early will not lose out on important curriculum.

“Teachers and schools will make adjustments to make sure that all students get key points in the curriculum that are important to them,” Baumstark said.

These early dismissal days are considered half-days and not part of the four severe weather days built into the school calendar, Baumstark said.

Decisions as to whether schools will dismiss early because of extreme heat will be made in advance. In the case of an early dismissal, an announcement will be posted on the Columbia Public Schools’ Web site, and those who subscribe to the district’s text alert system will also receive an announcement.

The change in policy dovetails with recent improvements in the district’s buildings.

Voters passed a $60 million bond issue in April 2007, allowing the district to install five air-conditioning systems at five elementary schools as part of several projects the district checked off its list, Baumstark said. The addition of air conditioning in these schools sparked the decision to change the existing heat dismissal procedure.

A committee headed by Jack Jensen, assistant superintendant for elementary education, and composed of parents and administrators, met to discuss and decide on the policy changes.

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