Minnesota schools digging out from this winter’s spate of weather-related closures could have more flexibility to count snow days as regular instruction under a legislative proposal unveiled Wednesday.
Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said the goal of her bill, which she’s calling the “Snow Day Relief Act,” is to allow schools to meet state calendar requirements and better serve students. She noted that under current law, districts and local leaders could face funding shortages and other penalties for failing to meet the mandated number of days in session in a school year.
“Across our state, extraordinary winter weather circumstances have prevented students from safely attending school,” Nelson, who chairs the Senate E-12 Education Finance and Policy Committee, said in a statement. “This bill gives local school boards the option to forgive days to ensure stable funding and avoid unreasonable scheduling disruptions for students and families.”
A similar school snow day forgiveness measure was proposed Wednesday in the House by Rep. Shelly Christensen, D-Stillwater. Her bill would provide flexibility to school districts for three days of school closures in January when the state was gripped by the polar vortex. Under the proposal, the Jan. 29-31 dates would be counted as instructional days.
“Stillwater has seen multiple snow days this winter, and the majority of the state saw closures due to the student health and safety concerns that arose during January’s Polar Vortex,” Christensen said in a statement.
In Christensen’s bill, school staff would not be penalized for those lost days, and nonsalaried staff would either be provided back pay or the opportunity to make up lost hours from that three-day span. This legislation is seen as a priority, and quick action is expected.
The bills’ introduction comes amid a particularly brutal winter for Minnesotans — and schools. Record cold and snow have led some districts to cancel more than a week of instruction, Nelson said. School officials across the state are now grappling with how to make up for lost time and meet the state-mandated 165 days of instruction before the end of the school year.
Nelson’s bill seeks to alleviate the crunch by giving local school boards the ability to vote to count snow days as regular instruction. She said she also plans to explore increasing the number of days schools can offer e-learning as an alternative when weather prevents students and teachers from making it to class. Current language in the bill encourages schools to adopt such plans.
“Many districts have already adopted plans that have allowed students to learn from the safety of their own homes on dangerous weather days,” Nelson said. “While this should not be a one-size-fits-all approach, local school boards should examine if e-learning days are a fit for them in dealing with snow days in the future.”
A spokesman for Gov. Tim Walz said the Democrat supports the move given the “extraordinary number of snow and cold days this winter.”
“The Governor has assured school districts that they will not be penalized for keeping their students safe, and he is ready to work with the legislature to make that happen,” spokesman Teddy Tschann said in a statement.
Schools across the state already have made some adjustments to account for the missed days. The Anoka-Hennepin school board approved a plan earlier this week to add March 7 as a day of instruction for students. The day was slated for staff development, where only teachers and secretaries would have been in school.
The district has lost six days total this school year. Three were for extreme cold, one was for snow, two were transportation-related.
The school board overseeing Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools, also voted earlier this week to convert a scheduled professional development day for staff on April 19 to a day of classes for all students because of weather cancellations.
“There was concern about lost instructional time,” Tony Taschner, communications director for Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools, said.
The proposed bill may help the school district if additional classes need to be canceled this year, he said.
“I can’t tell you today if it would help us, because we’re back on track now,” Taschner said. “Whether the legislation will help us or not depends on whether or not we have to cancel any other days this year. If they don’t pass the legislation, we’ll add more days at the end of the school year.”