MINNETONKA — School districts in the Lake Minnetonka area were closed for three days last week due to the dangerously cold temperatures that dropped to around 30-below zero.
Schools also started two-hours late on Monday, Jan. 28, due to snow and a few districts in the area started two-hours late on Monday, Feb. 4, due to ice-covered roads.
Having districts be closed this many days in a row with several weeks left of winter can put schools at risk of not meeting the number of instructional hours required by state law. Minnesota statutes say a school board’s annual calendar must include 425 hours of instruction for kindergarten students, 935 hours of instruction for students in first through sixth grade and 1,020 hours of instruction for students in seventh through 12th grade.
The good news for districts that may be getting close to not meeting the number of required instructional hours is that Gov. Tim Walz “has assured local school districts that they will not be penalized for keeping their students safe,” Teddy Tschann, the governor’s spokesperson, told Lakeshore Weekly News.
“At this point, we will not be needing to make up the days off this week,” Minnetonka Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Peterson told Lakeshore Weekly News via email on Jan. 31. “... We will be reviewing our number of hours to see how much more time can be taken off without making the time up.”
Peterson did say the school board can decide to have schools make up “any or all of the days” they’ve had off, but said the board probably won’t make that decision until after the winter season ends “in order to be sure they have considered all days off.”
This is the case for many other districts in the Lake Minnetonka area. Jolene Goldade, public relations and communications coordinator for Hopkins Public Schools, said the district still has extra “snow days” budgeted in the calendar, even after last week’s closures.
Meanwhile, for Westonka Public Schools, Superintendent Kevin Borg said in an update to students and parents that they are “exploring the possibility” of using the scheduled Teacher Professional Day on May 10 as a make-up day following last week’s closures, but noted any change to the district calendar will have to be approved by the Westonka School Board. The board’s next meeting is Feb. 11.
How do schools
choose when to close?
The main factor that goes into deciding whether or not to close school is the safety of students and staff, the districts said.
“With our most recent closure, we were concerned about the bus stop and the amount of time our students would be spending outside waiting for a bus or walking home from the bus stop in dangerously cold temperatures,” Goldade said.
For Minnetonka schools, Peterson said the district’s priority is to hold school to educate students, but “there are times when it is not safe to have them come to school.”
The district considers the forecast and advice from meteorologists at the National Weather Service, as well as consults with other school districts in the region when deciding whether to close school.
For snow, Peterson said they evaluate the conditions the morning of the snow event to see if heavy snow is already falling and whether roads are being plowed. They want to make sure bus drivers can get to their buses and through their routes “safely and timely,” Peterson added.
When it comes to cold, Peterson said they work with the National Weather Service to see how cold temperatures will be and how the wind will add to the cold, noting they usually consider closing if the wind chill is sustained at 35- to 40-below zero or colder.