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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Most kids kept inside at recess during cold snap, but districts leave decision up to principals

FILE - A student played at recess at Priest Lake Elementary in 2011. School principals decide individually when to keep kids in from recess because of cold weather, and most schools in the region have kept kids inside this week with temperatures topping out at less than 20 degrees. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - A student played at recess at Priest Lake Elementary in 2011. School principals decide individually when to keep kids in from recess because of cold weather, and most schools in the region have kept kids inside this week with temperatures topping out at less than 20 degrees. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

While most schools in the Spokane area have kept students inside for recess during the recent cold snap, it’s a decision that’s left up to individual schools.

Bemiss Elementary held outdoor recess on Tuesday, but only children who were “appropriately dressed” were allowed to play outdoors, said Assistant Principal Chuck Holkomb. Since then, they’ve been kept in as temperatures topped out under 20 degrees.

“I know the kids want to be outside,” Holkcomb said. “They sure want to be outside. With this cold we just can’t risk it.”

“I would be really surprised if there was anybody out,” said Spokane Public Schools spokesman Kevin Morrison said. “But once again those decision are made by individual principals.”

All Central Valley district schools had indoor recess Thursday, according to district spokeswoman Marla Nunberg.

Spokane principals consult a windchill chart distributed by the district, as well as looking at weather and facility conditions at the school site. Wind chill might not be as big an issue at schools with lots of trees, for example, while other schools might have no wind protection.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children “are less able to regulate their body temperature than adults,” which means they can develop hypothermia quickly.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says how schools handle cold weather varies greatly nationwide.

“There are no national or professional standards for temperature or other weather conditions that preclude sending children outside for recess,” the academy has said.

“Students in northern Minnesota who can be expected to be dressed appropriately for cold weather may be sent out with the temperature at -15F, while students in Florida may be kept in when the temperature approaches 40-50F,” the organization said in a news release. “Other factors, such as wind and precipitation, must also be taken into account.”

Adams Elementary has had indoor recess all week. Dominique Oakley, the office manager there, said, “There is no magic formula. There is no one determining factor.”

At Browne Elementary, Principal Julia Lockwood said she sent students outside briefly on Tuesday. However, they had to be wearing the appropriate clothing and there were “zipping stations” to make sure the students were ready.

Additionally, the school had extra clothes for any students who might have come to school without appropriate cold-weather clothing.

“We’ve had kids who come to school in shorts,” Lockwood said.

Principals said they’ve been receiving some calls from parents concerned that their students would be expected to go outside. Lockwood said if a parent requests their child not go outside for recess, she will honor that request.

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