LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – As a transplant from Wisconsin, Our Savior Lutheran School Principal Wesley Wrucke may have been one of the only people in the Louisville area to crack a smile when he opened his door to subzero temperatures Wednesday morning.
“We don’t have a full maintenance crew, so I had to go out and shovel the walks and brush the walks off early this morning to make sure that the kids could get in safely,” he said. “When my fingers were getting a little numb, I was maybe rethinking that.”
Our Savior Lutheran School, which has 140 students from preschool through eighth grade, was among a few schools in Jefferson County that did not cancel classes as wind chills plummeted to around 20 below zero.
But Wrucke, who has only closed Our Savior Lutheran School twice in his six years as principal, said his decision might have been different if the school used buses and kids needed to wait outside for their rides.
Jefferson County Public Schools was among dozens of school districts across Kentucky that called off classes Wednesday because of the frigid temperatures.
“I’m going to obviously endorse what they chose to do,” Wrucke said. “Again, if I had a bus fleet or I had different circumstances, I may have joined them, but I don’t.”
Gov. Matt Bevin drew the ire of educators and school officials throughout the state Tuesday and Wednesday after he said decisions to cancel classes because of predicted sub-zero temperatures as evidence that America is “getting soft.”
“I mean, there's no ice going with it or any snow,” Bevin said in a radio interview on 840 WHAS on Tuesday. “I mean, what happened to America?”
His comments also attracted national attention. Al Roker, the weather anchor of NBC News, referred to Bevin as a “nitwit governor” during a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC.
“These are kids who are going to be in subzero wind chills,” Roker said. “No, cancel school. Stop it. You know, if adults want to be out there, that’s great. These are our children. I’m glad you’re not a teacher.”
Bevin, for his part, said later in the radio interview that he was being "slightly facetious” and said “it's better to err on the side of being safe” while reiterating his original point.
“But it does concern me a little bit that in America, on this and any number of other fronts, we're sending messages to our young people that if life is hard you can curl up in the fetal position somewhere in a warm place and just wait until it stops being hard, and that just isn't reality,” Bevin said. “It just isn't.”
One Jefferson County Board of Education member didn’t see the humor in Bevin’s remarks.
James Craig, a newly elected member of the local school board who represents District 3, invited Bevin to stand with him at the corner of Shelbyville Road and Hurstbourne Parkway between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss public education in Louisville.
He tweeted around 5 a.m. Wednesday that the governor was “too soft to accept my invitation.”
Looks like @GovMattBevin was too soft to accept my invitation. But he has a standing invitation to tour a @JCPSKY school with me to discuss the great things happening here and the impact of his war on public education. pic.twitter.com/iJeEX52y7C— James Craig (@JamesDeVille) January 30, 2019
In a phone interview, Craig said the frigid weather was not something he’d “want an elementary student standing around in,” particularly those whose families can’t afford appropriate cold-weather attire to protect them from the elements.
Nearly 63 percent of JCPS students in kindergarten through 12th grade receive free or reduced-price lunches, according to district data.
“It’s significant enough that it needs to be top of mind when we’re dealing with weather conditions like this,” Craig said.
Jessica Dueñas, who teaches at W.E.B. DuBois Academy and won 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, also challenged Bevin to stand outside for 30 minutes Wednesday morning “dressed as one of our students would be.”
“I guarantee you most of our students are not wearing some fancy Patagonia or North Face jackets,” she said in a video posted on Twitter. “They’re wearing something that is less effective at protecting them from the cold.”
“How about you give one of our students your jackets and you stand outside in that cold since you’re being so quote-unquote hard?” she added.
A video summary of earlier thoughts. This time in video. @phillipmbailey @bubenny5 @lucywaterbury @MattBevin Check me out on FB and support however you can. https://t.co/vjTwZyDFGc pic.twitter.com/J65s50q5av— Jessica Dueñas Ed.S. (@JDuenas24) January 30, 2019
Craig said JCPS’s decision to call of schools isn’t a sign that the country is “getting soft.”
“It’s a sign that JCPS is making smart decisions for its students,” he said.
Wruke said he understood Bevin’s perspective as someone who’s around his age.
“Times have drastically changed,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
But now, Wruke said, school administrators are “much more aware” about safety issues facing their students.
“The weather forecasts and predictions are so far out now that you can prepare,” he said.
Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.
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