MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton has ordered all Minnesota public schools to close statewide Monday as dangerous cold looms. Forecasters are expecting frigid temperatures to arrive Sunday night and stay through Tuesday morning. Wind chill readings could plummet to 60 degrees below zero Monday morning.

Dayton issued the order Friday. He says the safety of Minnesota’s school children is the state’s first priority. Dayton says all Minnesotans should be cautious about the weather in the coming days.

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“I have made this decision to protect all our children from the dangerously cold temperatures now forecasted for next Monday. I encourage Minnesotans of all ages to exercise caution in these extreme weather conditions,” Dayton said.

School administrators in Rochester had already canceled classes for Monday. Dayton’s office said he made the decision Friday in order to give school administrators, teachers and parents time to plan for the closures. The state Department of Education was coordinating with school districts to make sure the public is adequately notified about the school closings.

“Children’s safety is always our top priority, and as a former superintendent, I know these are never easy calls,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said. “I want to thank Governor Dayton for putting our kids’ safety first, and am relieved parents won’t have to worry about sending their children out in the dangerous cold on Monday, but can instead keep them home, safe and warm.”

According to the University of Minnesota’s Climatology Working Group, this is the first time that a Minnesota governor has closed schools in response to cold weather since January 1997, when former Gov. Arne Carlson canceled schools as temperatures plunged.

In all, Carlson closed schools three times during his tenure, including once on Feb. 1996, when temperatures dipped to 30 below in the Twin Cities and negative-60 in Tower, Minn. WCCO-TV director of meteorology Mike Augustyniak said that day saw the coldest temperature ever recorded in Minnesota.

Carlson also closed schools on Jan. 18, 1994, when morning air temperature readings were -26 degrees in the Twin Cities with a wind chill of 48 below zero.

Minnesota law gives the governor the power to “authorize the commissioner of education to alter school schedules, curtail school activities or order school closed,” according to the language of the statute. Cassellius said the principal reason for the decision is that officials don’t want kids waiting outside for the bus or walking to school in temperatures that can cause frostbite in as little as five to 10 minutes.

“It could be quite dangerous for so many of our children,” Cassellius said. She urged parents to keep children inside on Monday.

The order also applies to public charter schools, but not private schools. However, Cassellius pointed out that many Minnesota private schools coordinate student transportation with public districts, and that school buses won’t be running Monday.

Police said subzero cold had already contributed to the death of a 79-year-old New Ulm man. William Harry Lee was found unresponsive in his backyard Thursday night. Police said he apparently fell, and the Brown County coroner ruled the death accidental. The temperature was 18 below when officers arrived, KTOE-AM reported.

State officials urge Minnesotans to be prepared for extreme low temperatures by having a plan in case of power or furnace outages or other unforeseen circumstances.

A number of other local institutions and attractions also announced they would close on Monday, including all St. Paul parks and recreation programs, all Minneapolis parks and recreation programs, as well as the Minnesota Zoo.

The coldest temperature ever recorded in the Twin Cities metro area was 41 degrees below zero on Jan. 21, 1888.

School Cancellations Have Some Parents Scrambling 

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Jen Rybar works by day at Best Buy, and by night she’s mom to Madison, Emily and Brayden. The latter is the only one old enough for school, the two girls go to day care.

“It’s just last minute and everybody’s going to be in the same situation,” she said. “You gotta work, gotta take care of the kids.”

Her two girls are taken care of because their New Horizon Academy in Richfield will be open. That comes as a relief.

“We were super happy,” Rybar said. “Because if this was closed, it’d be a lot more work to get care for all three of them.”

Aimee Maidi runs the New Horizon Academy in Richfield . She says they never close.

“I remember back in ‘91, the big snowstorm of ‘91, drudging from the road through the snowbanks to my center to open the door, and we were open that day and parents came, brought their kids,” Maidi said.

All their centers, she said, will be open Monday. Some centers will even take drop-ins.

“Our centers are gearing up – staffing-wise, fun activity-wise — to be able to accommodate not only their own school-age children, but others as well,” Maidi said.

Some major employers are making accommodations. Spokespersons from Best Buy and General Mills said the companies are encouraging employees with children to put safety first and make special arrangements as needed.

Rybar says she’ll make it work.

“So I might have to miss work, I’m not sure,” she said. “May have to get a neighbor, we’ll figure it out.”

The Outlook For Northern Minnesota

Northern Minnesota is experiencing a bit of a reprieve from the record-breaking cold before another round of dangerous temperatures arrives early next week.

The temperature plunged to 43 below zero in International Falls in far northern Minnesota early Thursday. Friday morning the mercury hovered around zero in the city that hugs the Canadian border. National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Huyck says Thursday’s temperature in International Falls breaks a record set in 2010 when the mercury dipped to minus 37.

In St. Louis County, readings dropped to 36 below in Embarrass overnight Thursday and 33 below in Ely.

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