South-metro districts are close to needing extra days to make up for cancellations

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER and MEGHAN HOLDEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Most districts have a cushion built in, but some may need to schedule makeup days.

With most south-metro schools canceling school five times this month because of the cold, it’s looking like school districts will have no choice but to schedule makeup days.

A sampling of local districts late last week indicated that many had extra days built into their schedule to cushion the blow if a few were lost to weather concerns. But the cushion was fast running out, and Burnsville-Eagan-Savage had already scheduled one make-up day for President’s Day, Feb. 17.

Then classes were cancelled Monday and Tuesday, as subzero temperatures and dangerous windchills kept their grip on the state.

Missing “two days was no problem,” said Ruth Dunn, the district’s spokeswoman, but last Thursday’s cancellation put them over the edge, to say nothing of Monday and Tuesday.

The Lakeville district was to consider a proposal to add make-up days on President’s Day and March 28 at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Prior Lake-Savage’s school board is discussing options, including making early release days into full school days.

Minnesota requires between 935 and 1,020 hours spent in school for students in first through 12th grade. For most districts, that amounts to about 170 days, according to Josh Collins, the Minnesota Department of Education’s spokesman.

Northfield scheduled 174 days this school year, while Prior Lake-Savage and Shakopee have 172. The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district also had “significantly more hours” than are required, said Tony Tasch­ner, the district’s spokesman.

Stil, even before this week’s cancellations, “It’s likely that we’re going to add days,” Taschner said. That might include turning a staff work day into a student day or adding days this summer.

The decision to cancel school isn’t an easy one, and superintendents must balance student safety with the consequences of losing class time, said Chris Richardson, Northfield’s superintendent.

“[Most superintendents] will tell you that these are the decisions that they dread the most,” Taschner said.

Superintendents talk to each other and, typically, if one district is going to cancel, they all do, Taschner said.

Richardson said he considers closing school when the windchill drops to 30 below. While most metro-area schools were closed last Thursday, Northfield’s schools had a two-hour-late start. Richardson made that call because he saw that conditions were predicted to improve.

While many parents drive their kids to school on frigid days or wait at the bus stop with them in a warm car, some kids will always be standing out at the bus stop, Taschner said.

In Rosemount, officials are already looking at where hours can be made up for half-day kindergarten classes, since missing four days has put them below the number of hours required, Taschner said.

Despite the issues that come with canceling school, officials said safety is the most important thing. “Safety is top priority,” said Crystal McNally, the Shakopee district’s spokeswoman, “and everything else can move.”

Erin Adler • 952-746-3283 Meghan Holden is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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