Dangerously cold temps threaten a child’s safety

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By Reed Anfinson
Where are the parents?
It is a question asked by outraged parents as they take their children to school in the morning, or head to work, and see a child walking to school in dangerously cold weather with no hat, or gloves, and wearing a thin coat.
Children have been reported walking to and from the Northside Elementary School in the early morning hours with wind chills as low as a minus 40 degrees. At times, they walked unnecessarily early due to school starting two hours late. Apparently, the child’s parent wasn’t aware of the late starting time even though the school district sends out a message to all parents by cellphone notice.
Children boarding buses in the country have to also take precautions to stay warm should their bus get stuck on a dangerously cold day.
“At Northside, our handbook states that students are expected to wear the proper winter weather gear - coats, boots, snow pants, gloves, hats,” Benson Public Schools Elementary Principal Garrett Schmidt told the Monitor-News.
“Our classroom teachers also communicate with the students and parents when winter weather is approaching, and warmer gear may be needed. If a student forgets an item at home or does not come properly prepared, we do have donated items available that we allow students to use - thanks to our awesome community!
“It is an ongoing battle as the year goes on; however, our staff is great at ensuring all students are dressed,” he said.
When the Benson police are called about a child outside inappropriately dressed for the dangerously cold weather, they will respond to offering help, Chief Ian Hodge said Monday. If necessary, they can give a child a ride.
“You can’t just kick a kid out the door inappropriately dressed for the weather,” Hodge said. There can be consequences for the parents of a child neglected if they do endanger the child’s health, he said.
When Swift County Human Services is notified about a child potentially in danger due to dangerously cold temperatures, it will start a screening process to determine the level of its involvement, Director Catie Lee said.
An assessment of the incident is the lesser of the two reviews human services will do of the report. An investigation is a more serious level of inquiry into the child’s welfare that sets in place official reporting guidelines.
What action humans services takes regarding the parents and child will be determined by the outcome of its research into the situation. At the lowest level, it will provide assistance for the family in getting proper clothing for the child with the help of Prairie Five Community Action and its clothing division.
Lee said that anyone can report an incident in which they think a child’s health is endangered by calling the office or sending an email. They don’t have to identify themselves, she said. It also follows up on reports made through official channels such as law enforcement and the school district.
 A lack of common sense
It isn’t just the parents of a few elementary kids who are disregarding the dangers of wind chills that can freeze skin in minutes. Students old enough to make their own choices on what to wear on a bitterly cold winter’s day fail to exercise common sense.  
A few years ago, a car with several kids headed to Benson High School got hung up on the railroad tracks. The temperature was below zero with the wind chill in the teens to 20s below. When the kids were offered help getting their vehicle unstuck, it was obvious they were not dressed to be outside their vehicle. They were wearing thin clothes and at least one was wearing flipflops with no socks.
During the blizzard of December 2020, that stranded dozens of vehicles between Benson and Murdock, Sheriff John Holtz and his staff had to rescue some of those drivers and their passengers.
“A couple of people came out of a vehicle wearing shorts, tennis shoes, t-shirts, and a windbreaker,” a clearly dismayed Holtz said. “Luckily enough, the vehicle was still running so they were still staying somewhat warm in the vehicle, but they were still cold.”
Kids are still heading to school this winter as if they won’t get stranded and have to spend more than a minute outside.

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