Minnesota schools won’t have to add days to the end of the school year to make up for this year’s run of weather-related cancellations under a bill approved by state lawmakers on Thursday.
The measure known as the “Snow Day Relief Act” now heads to the desk of DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who has previously said he wants to provide flexibility to schools that canceled classes amid record-setting runs of snow and extreme temperatures. If the bill earns Walz’s signature, school boards will be able to count days canceled for “health and safety concerns” as instructional time — and avoid the risk of losing funding.
The bill applies only to the current school year, in which the winter weather — plus tornadoes and flooding — have prompted some districts to cancel as many as 13 days of classes. Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said school administrators have struggled to figure out how to make up for lost time without creating more scheduling headaches for school staff and families.
“There were concerns raised about altering spring break, and adding days became difficult as we talked about so many days [interfering with] graduation, family activities, summer school and the concern that some schools have construction projects ready to begin at the end of the school year,” Nelson said.
The bill, a reworked version of measures approved earlier this year in the House and Senate, passed both chambers by wide margins. It allows school districts to count as many canceled days as needed toward state requirements for instructional time — as long as those decisions are approved by local school boards and relayed to the state Department of Education.
Districts that opt for the break on making up lost days must ensure that hourly workers, like cafeteria staff, educational assistants and custodians, are offered additional hours or compensated for lost days of pay. School districts would still have the option of adding days on to their calendar to make up for cancellations, rather than just counting them as instructional time.
Though it took lawmakers a full month to reach agreement on the bill, lawmakers characterized it as an example of both parties working together toward a shared goal.
“This is a great compromise, a bipartisan [effort] where we’re working together, and it was done in a very transparent way,” said Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood.
The lone speech opposing the bill in either the House or Senate came from Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who warned that lawmakers would be allowing students to be “ripped off” by granting districts a break from makeup days.
“This bill is misguided, this bill is not delivering the promise to Minnesota’s kids,” he said, before the House voted 115-12 to approve the bill. “We are shortchanging them on the education they are supposed to be given through our school districts in this state.”
Other lawmakers said they wanted to ensure districts had enough flexibility to contend with both the chaos brought on by the winter and any challenges that could pop up in the last months of the school year.
Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said schools in his hometown have already missed 11 days because of tornadoes, cold and snow. Now, he said, the community is facing the possibility of flooding that could add more days to that total — and would benefit from a law giving schools some wiggle room.
“I sure hope we don’t need to add any days this spring with the rise of the water,” he said.