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Cold weather timeout could prolong Minneapolis school year

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: January 7, 2014 - 5:06 PM

The closure of Minneapolis schools for two days this week raises the issue of whether students will go longer into June to offset the loss of instructional time.

This year's calendar budgets two additional days in June to offset the possibility of snow days.  The district had no immediate answer Monday on whether it will add back in June the loss of Monday and Tuesday due to extreme cold.

The extra days reserved on the district calendar to offset snow days fall on June 9 and 10. The last scheduled day of school for non-graduating students is June 6. Adding the days in June would shorten the break for students before the start of summer school to three school days rather than a full week. Making up the days in June would also further unbalance the two semesters of the school year, making the first semester 84 days and the second semester 92 days.

The district has some wiggle room because this year's calendar provides 176 student days in class.  According to the district web site, it is required by state law only to offer a 170-day calendar. But Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius disputed that, citing a state law that requires 165 days.

However, the district administration has been emphasizing a longer school year in its contract negotiations with teachers, especially for students who are performing poorly.  The flip side of that is that the additional days in June would not happen until after the state achievement tests on which the district wants student performance to improve.

Although snow days occur more frequently and usually are decided by local districts, Monday's closure was mandated by Gov. Mark Dayton, using his emergency powers under state law.  But he left Tuesday's decision up to local school officials, and Minneapolis decided to remain closed.

The Minneapolis district has been somewhat snakebit by weather during this school year. It opened the school year a week before Labor Day, and was forced to close 27 schools without air-conditioning for two days after students and staff wilted in record heat. The district said on Tuesday that it will not require students who missed clases in August to make up the lost time in June.

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