MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In his twelve years as superintendent at Minnetonka Public Schools, Dr. Dennis Peterson has called off school three, maybe four times. Each time it was for snow, not cold.
“It’s a whole new ballgame for us,” he said.
On every very cold day, he and his team look at detailed weather reports to make his decision. They take the temperature into consideration for diesel buses and the windchill for the students.
“I think we kind of look at around 40 below,” he said. Usually, he waits until about 12 hours before school starts to be sure the forecast is more certain. “If they say the wind is predicted at 25-30 mph and now it looks like 10-15 mph, that changes the dynamics a lot.”
He follows a National Weather Service chart that shows the wind chills where frostbite can happen in 10 minutes.
“There has to be a point of when you do and when you don’t,” Peterson said.
Each school closure is made at the district level. Ultimately, the superintendent makes the final decision after talking with other superintendents in the area.
Schools lose no money on closed days because they’re funded on a per-pupil basis.
Most teachers have the day off along with the students, but in some districts, like South Washington County Schools, teachers must come into work, take a day of leave or make up the time with the principal.
“We have bus drivers, support staff, custodians, secretaries, and depending on their work agreement with the school, this is a day without pay for many of them,” said Denise Specht, the president of Education Minnesota.
The state requires 935 hours of instruction for elementary students and 1,020 hours for middle and high-school children every year. That generally translates into 165 days of instruction. Most Minnesota schools schedule between 172 and 175 days, which gives them some wiggle room when it comes to school closures.
Minneapolis schedules 176 days, St. Paul schedules 175 for middle and high-school students and Anoka-Hennepin Schools schedule 173 for middle and high-school students.
“In Minnetonka, our calendar is 173 to start, so we’re now at 170 days,” said Peterson. “I think that’ll be up to the school board to decide whether we make up days.”
Anoka-Hennepin Schools spokesperson Mary Olson said at this point, they don’t expect to have to make up any days, but beyond four days of closures, they will consult with the state for guidance.
And, as for everyone who says, “They didn’t use to close school back in my day,” Peterson says he agrees.