Unlike thousands of other Minnesota students, Katie Segner had to go to school on Monday.
Or more precisely, the senior at Benilde-St. Margaret’s in St. Louis Park had to check in with her teachers online, complete several homework assignments and trade e-mails with classmates in a study group.
“I did take the luxury of sleeping in, then jumped right to it,” she said.
Many districts in the state, including Anoka-Hennepin, St. Paul and Minneapolis, canceled school again for Tuesday, when early-morning windchills were expected to hit 40 below once more. It is the fifth day classes have been canceled during this harsh month and educators are worried about how learning might be affected. Including weekends and holidays, students have spent as much time at home as they have in school for the month of January.
Trying to find a partial solution, Benilde administrators took the unusual step of requiring students to complete all of their classes online Monday and Tuesday.
It’s not a move that every school could make — all Benilde students have school-issued MacBook Airs and universal Internet access — but it’s a good example of how some schools are trying to keep students engaged when dangerously cold weather cancels classes.
Simply put, the novelty of days off because of the cold has worn off.
“At this point, it’s about doing what we can to protect instruction time,” said Benilde high school Principal Sue Skinner.
Among the scores of Minnesota districts canceling school for Tuesday were Anoka-Hennepin, Brooklyn Center, Cloquet, Delano, Duluth, Centennial, Columbia Heights, Edina, Elk River, Lakeville, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Osseo, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, Richfield, Robbinsdale, St. Louis Park, St. Paul, South Washington County, Waconia and Wayzata.
Every time classes are canceled, superintendents bemoan the loss of instructional time. Most schools are likely to make up that time either in June, or by cutting into spring break or scheduled staff development days.
On Monday, for example, Minneapolis announced that its students will make up days on Feb. 14 and March 28. The district, which also canceled classes in August because of excessive heat, still has three more days to reschedule.
Researchers are divided over what effect snow days have on test scores. A 2009 study that looked at test scores in Colorado and Maryland found that scores dropped one-third to one-half of a percentage point for each day of missed school.
For now, the Minnesota Department of Education is not considering pushing back the date of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. Students are slated to take the online reading and math MCAs between March 10 and May 9.
“We do have some flexibility, but [changing the testing window would] have a huge ripple effect,” said department spokesman Josh Collins.
Among kids, views vary
While test scores are clearly important, administrators and teachers are most focused on making sure students are learning.
At Great River Montessori School in St. Paul, school leaders decided to forge ahead with theater rehearsals despite school being canceled this week and also have decided to open the building to students participating in an upcoming robotics competition.
Christine Beck, the school’s leader, said many students are eager to return.
“It’s been very interesting to watch that curve develop on Facebook,” she said. “I’ve seen some students say, ‘I feel like my education is being compromised.’ ”
Maureen Segner, a parent of two Benilde students, said she was thrilled when it was announced last week that students would be required to work online even if school was closed.
“I think it helps keep the stress level down for everyone,” she said. “Kids won’t have to worry about trying to play catch up. It’s a nice way to keep everyone focused on school.”
Her daughter, Katie, agreed.
“I know that I’m crazy busy right now with dance team and I’m looking for every opportunity I can to get ahead in class,” she said.
Not every student shares that enthusiasm about school work.
Gov. Mark Dayton said two students from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul showed up at his residence Sunday to urge him to cancel classes Monday, as he did for all Minnesota schools on Jan. 6 when dangerously cold weather gripped the entire state.
That unusual move won praise from many Minnesota students who extended their holiday break by two days.
“I must say I’ve received overwhelming support from everybody who can’t vote until the next decade,” Dayton joked. “A little girl about in the third or fourth grade wrote me a card that said: ‘Mark, I love you. You are the bomb-dot-com.’ ”