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Bitter Bus Stop Mornings: To Cancel, Delay, Or Keep School Open?

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - It's a cold morning at the bus stop today but it will be much colder on Friday.

No one is watching those diving temperatures more than school superintendents who have to decide whether or not to cancel or adjust schools.

It's the kind of decision that superintendents hate because no matter what they decide to do, someone is going to be unhappy.

"The weather forecast definitely has my attention," said Penn Hills Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hines.

Hines has one priority in moments like this: the "safety of the children waiting for transportation."

She said that the general guideline is zero degrees but "If I say zero, then is that with or without windchill? The nuances continue from there."

Dr. Hines said she also has to weigh the impact on students should classes be canceled, using the word "stability."

"We just got our kids in a really solid routine and I hate to disrupt that routine," she said. "I'm telling you, it's so important. I think districts across the nation reported a spike in disruptive behavior at the start of the school year."

It's not just limited to canceling a whole day of classes, it's also implementing a two-hour delay which can also disrupt those routines.

"Is the temperature distinctly different at 7:30 than it is at 9:30?" Dr. Hines asks. "So, when you do a two-hour delay, what's really the difference? It might be daylight, so that does make a difference."

As schools adjusted during the pandemic, a new option emerged -- leaving children at home for a flexible instruction day but even that has limitations.

"Those are capped at a maximum of five for the school year," Dr. Hines explained. "We used one on Tuesday, so we have to factor that in."

Not to mention, parents have already had to deal with closed schools on Monday and Tuesday.

"So, if you're a working parent, oh my goodness, how do you navigate all of that?" She asks. "I'm inclined to keep the doors open for the benefit of the parents and so that the kids have stability."

The bottom line: superintendents are in a no-win situation.

"I hate winter...I hate winter, it is so difficult to judge," said Dr. Hines.

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.

Ultimately, it's student safety that is the deciding factor, but also with low temperatures, being able to get the buses started and running, which could leave students at the bus stop even longer.

WATCH: Waiting At The Bus Stop In The Cold

If kids are left at the bus stop for a long time, just how much risk could they be facing?

It's certainly nothing to mess with, whether you're an adult or a child, but like the elderly, Dr. Brent Rau of Allegheny General Hospital, kids are more susceptible to the extreme cold.

"They have a hard time regulating their body temperatures," Dr. Rau explained. "Just physiologically, it's more difficult for those age extremes to do that."

Dr. Rau says caution is needed and the risk varies.

"It varies based on each child, depends on the weight of the child, but a lot of it is going to depend on how many layers they're wearing," Dr. Rau said. "Really, every bit of exposed skin needs to be covered as best it can."

He explained it takes 30 minutes for frostbite to set in and once you add in the windchill, that time goes down.

"So, all of a sudden, that half-hour to frostbite can become closer to 15 minutes very quickly if the winds blowing, so the windchill does play a factor," he said.

Dr. Rau also explained that this really isn't just about kids at the bus stop on school days.

"It's really going to be every one that needs to be bundling up and staying safe from the cold," he said.

Whether a child at the bus stop or an adult outside for any reason, once you feel the tingling, and things start to go numb, get to the warmth and avoid a hot shower or hot fire to thaw out.

"You don't want to do the thing [when you] run the water on as hot as possible because you will not be able to know how hot it is if your skin has been exposed that long to the cold," Dr. Rau explained. "By the time you do, at that point, you might have a second-degree burn from the hot water."

He recommends instead using a lukewarm source of heat and warming up slowly, and if your child needs to go to the bus stop in the morning, do all you can to minimize the time they are outside.

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