With vivid memories of the Polar Vortex and its frigid wrath, administrators at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud decided earlier this year that students would work from home online the next time bad weather forced a snow day.

To make sure students and teachers were prepared, a "practice" snow day was slated for Nov. 21. But Mother Nature had other plans, dumping nearly a foot of snow on the St. Cloud area on Monday and forcing ­Cathedral officials to do a real-life trial before their test run.

"It was sort of ready or not," Cathedral High School Principal Lynn Grewing said. "But we were ready, and we got everything posted online pretty early."

Cathedral is among the growing number of private schools in Minnesota that are keeping kids engaged from home by holding online classes when weather conditions close schools elsewhere. Last year, many schools lost six days to dangerously cold weather, which was an unusually high number even for a cold-hardy state like Minnesota.

Private schools are able to do this because most give students their own computers, whether that's an iPad or a laptop. And unlike public schools, they don't rely on state funding. Public school funding can rise or fall based on daily attendance, which can be tricky to calculate when students are working remotely.

It is a move most public schools are not prepared to make right now due to the state funding concerns and because many students in Minnesota do not have a computer or access to the Internet. But the constantly evolving role of technology in schools does have state education leaders discussing the idea. As the snow swirled Monday, a state online learning council talked about some of the barriers to public schools offering online classes in lieu of a snow day.

"There are certainly some equity issues here, but it's certainly worth having a pre-emptive conversation about," said Josh Collins, a state Department of Education spokesman.

Private school leaders say holding classes online allows them to keep their students safe while making sure students don't slide academically.

"Of course, we'd rather have our students in class, but I think it's a very good option compared to seeing a school day go down the drain," said Sue Skinner, high school principal of Benilde St. Margaret's, which held classes online Monday due to poor road ­conditions.

Last school year, after canceling school for two days, Benilde held online classes for four days. Student reviews were somewhat mixed. Some complained at the time that they had a hard time finding lessons online or were unable to get their questions answered.

Pledging to do better, Benilde adopted a new policy that outlined the skills teachers would need to conduct classes online should weather conditions make it impossible for students to travel to school. Key among the school's objectives is to offer online classes that are relevant and engaging, rather than require students to complete "busy work."

On Monday, the students in Jean Nightingale's geometry class at Benilde were required to complete a lesson on the various ways to prove a congruent triangle. Just after administrators made the call to hold classes online early Monday morning, Nightingale made a video of herself and posted in online for students to see.

She could tell that several of them had watched it within 30 minutes of it being posted.

"I think most of them would prefer to be in class with their peers rather than being asked to do this work at home," Nightingale said. "But they know they'll be held accountable for it."

Last school year, Mounds Park Academy piloted some online classes when school was canceled due to the weather. Now, the school has purchased a new online platform that will make it easier for teachers to post lessons online and communicate with students and parents.

In mid-January, Upper School students will be required to work online should weather conditions prevent them from making it to school.

Randy Comfort, Upper School director, said the move is a natural progression for the facility, which has provided computers to all its students since 2000.

"It was the Polar Vortex that gave us the kick we needed to get us there," Comfort said.

Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469