Chicago-area schools make adjustments to counter extreme heat

With excessive heat looming in the region, Chicago area school districts are making adjustments to their schedules to keep students and staff safe.

Downers Grove Grade School District 58 was set to welcome students back to the classroom on Wednesday, but Mother Nature altered those plans. The school year will now begin on Friday.

In a letter to families, district officials explained that the dangerous heat, paired with the fact that many classrooms are not equipped with air conditioning, wouldn't be conducive to learning.

"Thank you for your understanding and cooperation as we navigate these challenges together," said Supt. Kevin Russell. "Your children’s and our staff's safety are of the utmost importance to us, and we are committed to providing the best possible educational experience for our students."

Meanwhile, at Downers Grove North High School, where students hit the books on Monday following summer break, the athletic department is keeping a close watch on the forecast.

Many student-athletes have been practicing outdoors all summer-long, but the impending heat is a different story – forcing teams to relocate practices and monitor activity limits.

"Outdoor events [on Wednesday and Thursday] have been canceled and practices have been shifted to mornings, or evenings when the sun goes down," said Katie Dobersztyn, athletic trainer, Downers Grove North High School.


To beat the heat, Downers Grove North football practice was held before school Tuesday, starting at 6 a.m.

Other sports did the same.

"Varsity tennis practiced this morning before school, our cross country programs shortened their practices – they did a mix of inside and outside, swim practiced in the morning, volleyball had away games, and then soccer practice was inside today," said Dobersztyn.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) implements a strict heat policy.

"We’re communicating, hourly, daily with the coaches," said Matthew Carbon, assistant athletic trainer, Downers Grove North High School.

To stay on track, high school athletic departments should be utilizing a Wet Bulb Globe Heat Stress Meter.

"Walk outside, turn it on, stay outside for a few minutes, and it will constantly be gauging and calculating that number for you," said Carbon.

The device not only measures temperature, but also wind speed, sunlight, humidity and more – determining safe time limits for students to practice or compete outdoors.

"As we move through the Wet Bulb Globe ranges, we do cut down on the minutes they can practice. When you get into the 84.6-87.5-degree ranges, two hours is the maximum practice time you can have. And then as we increase from there, we cut down to 1 hour, and then when we get to 89.9 degrees on the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), there’s no outdoor workouts permitted," said Stacey Lambert, IHSA assistant executive director.

At Downers Grove North High School, trainers Dobersztyn and Carbon, also make sure a cooling tub is filled each morning.

"Just in case a kid overheats, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, the gold standard is to get them in the tub and to cool them down as rapidly as possible," said Carbon.

Meanwhile, class schedules for many are changing course this week due to the extreme weather.

Two Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 schools – Canterbury and West – will be closed Wednesday and Thursday. School will continue as planned for all other District 47 schools.

Woodland District 50 schools will be releasing students early on Wednesday and Thursday.

Thornton Township High School District 205 will shift to E-learning through Thursday.

Students will be dismissed early from Peotone Schools, by noon, through Friday.

For details on how your child’s practice or class schedule may be impacted by the weather, you’re encouraged to check directly with your district.

A spokesperson with Chicago Public Schools released the following statement to FOX 32 Chicago:

"Keeping students and staff safe, healthy, cool and comfortable as they return to school this week is our number one priority. As we enter a new school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is working with school leaders to ensure every school building is ready to host new and returning students this week. The District is prepared to address concerns that may arise as students and teachers head back to the classroom and we look forward to working with families, educators, and community members to ensure a successful start to the 2023-24 school year."

The heat can take a toll on the body. Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications warns that hot temperatures combined with humidity over time can cause heat illness.

Cooling center hours will be expanded at Chicago locations on the hottest days, Wednesday and Thursday.

For those seeking a place to cool off, public libraries are recommended. The Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library is one of the system’s busiest. It serves as a senior center, community center and a cooling center.

Click here for a full list of Chicago cooling centers.