Unrelenting cold has schools scheduling makeup days

Due to bitterly cold temperatures -- caused by what the National Weather Service has dubbed as “polar vortices”  -- several local school districts are scheduling makeup days for students after five days of school cancellations in January.

Under state statutes, school districts must provide a minimum of 1,020 hours of instructional time per school year, or 165 days.  School districts vary, however, in how many extra days are added to each school calendar year to act as a buffer for weather-related cancellations.

St. Anthony-New Brighton Public Schools, ISD 282, for example, has several extra days built into this year’s calendar, so the district, so far, has not had to schedule any makeup days.

District 282 Superintendent Robert Laney said the district has 174 instructional days on this year’s calendar and caught a lucky break when classes were cancelled last Monday due to the cold.

“We were a bit fortunate, last Monday was a teacher staff development day.”

Peter Olson Skog, director of teaching and learning for ISD 623, said the Roseville District also has more hours on the calendar than state statutes require. He did not say how much of a buffer was built into that calendar, but it appears to be less than the hours of instructional time lost during the five cold weather cancellations last month.

“It is our plan to add a makeup day. The school board will a make a decision on Feb. 11,” Skog said.

He did not identify a specific day, but said the district feels it would be best to schedule a day to make up for lost instructional time sooner rather than later. The reasoning for that, he said, is it puts the instruction in the same time frame as when it is being taught, during the same trimester. Plus, it allows the district some options down the road if another polar air mass decides to seep its way south and force schools to cancel more classes.

In the nearby Mounds View Public School District, the school board has already added three additional instructional days to its calendar. District 621 had just one extra day on its calendar this school year.

In a written statement, District 621 Superintendent Dan Hoverman said: “historically, our district’s approach to add one day in the event of a cancellation has been more than what was necessary, and it continues to allow families a fairly consistent school year experience, year after year, without lengthening the calendar with cushion days we most likely would never use.”

Administrators at all three districts admit that this year has been atypical, and said it has been years, if not decades since there have been this many school days called off to weather.

The Mounds View School Board has scheduled makeup days for Monday, Feb. 17 (Presidents Day), Monday, April 4 and Friday, May 23.

In the meantime, Mounds View Public Schools and other districts across the state are awaiting news from Gov. Mark Dayton’s office as to whether or not the state will require districts to make up for a day of mandatory school closings he issued on Monday, Jan. 6. If the Mounds View District is required to make up that day, Hoverman said it would be done on Friday, June 6, which would extend the school year by one day. But, if the district is not required to make up for the statewide school closings issued on Jan. 6, and there are no other cancellations, classes would end on June 5.

What criteria do school district’s use when closing schools due to cold?

Laney said there is not a set list of criteria for when his district calls off school because of extreme cold, but said there is a lot of collaboration with neighboring districts. Generally speaking, many school districts in the Twin Cities will close schools when air temperatures drop to 20 degrees below zero and wind chills reach 40 degrees bellow zero, when exposed skin can freeze in a matter of five minutes.

Over the next couple of months, students, their parents and educators will undoubtedly be keeping a watchful eye on the weather and hoping Mother Nature spares them of any more weather-related cancellations.

“What people keep reminding me is we are only half way through winter,” Laney said. “... let’s just hope the weather improves in a hurry.”

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

Editor's note
Roseville Area Schools announced this week that Tuesday, Feb. 18 has been added to the calendar as a makeup day for cold weather cancellations last month. The day was originally scheduled as a teacher workshop day, but will now be a regular school day.


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