Multiple missed school days caused by this winter’s heavy snowfall and bitter cold may have been fun breaks for thousands of Minnesota students. But those same days caused calendar problems that put districts in danger of violating the state’s school days requirements. And technically that violation could subject districts to penalties including fines and lost state funding.
To make sure that districts are held harmless, legislative proposals would wisely provide relief by allowing them to count at least some snow days as instructional. The bills also call for hourly and other school workers to receive the pay lost to inclement weather either through working additional hours or being paid for the days off.
Earlier this month, the state Senate passed a measure that would allow districts to avoid penalties. Authored by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, the bill would cover only this school year. On Monday the House approved a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Shelly Christensen, DFL-Stillwater.
Understanding that some districts lost 10 or more days (and that additional weather problems could occur yet this spring), the bills give districts the flexibility they need. At the same time, legislators acknowledged the importance of ensuring that state students receive the learning time they need. That’s why they discussed the use of online learning as a possible alternative when the weather causes closings. Minnesota law requires districts to provide 165 days of instruction.
To their credit, some districts already built a few snow days into their calendars. Others held class on Presidents’ Day in February, shortened spring break or added days at the end of the year. The bills rightly allow individual school boards to decide what works best for their own communities.
Although there is general agreement that districts should not be penalized because of the weather, the House bill limits the number of days that could be counted as instructional to the three in January, when the state was locked in the polar vortex. The Senate version carries no limitation.
Legislators should be able to strike a compromise in the next few days and send a bill to Gov. Tim Walz, who has said he agrees with the concept. It’s been a brutal winter, and the state’s school districts deserve the Legislature’s support in making the best decisions for their students.