Twin Cities schools scramble to recoup days lost to cold

/ 29 January 2014 / eunice

Shannon Prather, Star Tribune, January 29, 2014 – Presidents’ Day may be an acceptable school casualty in this winter that won’t quit. But summer vacation and spring break? Forget about it.

Twin Cities schools boards are moving quickly to add makeup days during the school year because students have missed an unprecedented five days due to subzero weather so far.

A number of districts will be cutting short long weekends around Presidents’ Day as well as tapping parent-teacher conference and staff-development days when students would have been off. One district is even toying with adding 15 minutes to its school day for the rest of the year.

But hands off summer and spring break, parents have said.

Message received.

“We have no plans to extend the school year into the second week of June or play with any of the spring break days,” said Colin Sokolowski, public relations director for Mounds View Public Schools.

Mounds View will have makeup days on Feb. 17 (Presidents’ Day), April 4 and May 23. They had previously been staff-development days.

In many districts, Presidents’ Day has become a three- or four-day weekend. Families often plan getaways, and Sokolowski said the district understands that some will keep them and that their children will miss that makeup day.

“We just ask them to be in touch with their school that they will be gone,” he said.

There could be some grumbling about Presidents’ Day, but “what we heard more loudly and clearly was, ‘Please don’t move us deeper into the summer,’ ” Sololowski said.

“Our parents have been about as understanding as you can be [with the changes] when we are all pushed to this level of frustration with unprecedented weather,” he said.

Keeping focused

Some districts say they’re avoiding June makeup days because children often are less focused by then. By adding time earlier, “you have better-quality instruction days,” said Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan spokesman Tony Taschner.

Minnesota law requires that public school students in grades 1-11 be in class a minimum of 165 days per school year. There also are hourly requirements: a minimum of 1,020 hours of instruction for grades 7-12 and 936 hours for grades 1-6. All-day kindergartners need 850.

Some districts are adding days beyond the minimum to make sure students cover all their coursework — and to provide a fallback in case of additional winter weather closings. After all, February still lies ahead, and March is the third-snowiest month of the year, behind January and December.

Still planning

Several school districts, including Anoka-Hennepin, South Washington, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale and Osseo, are still formulating makeup strategies.

The St. Paul School District doesn’t need to schedule any makeup days at this point, but after Tuesday’s closings, it has no cushion left. If more days are canceled, decisions will have to be made and the maneuvering could get tricky, said spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey.

For example, the district has professional development days scheduled in March and April, but they are part of a pool of dates available to staff members to fulfill those requirements, and some employees may have already done so in exchange for the days off, Stewart Downey said.

If the Stillwater Area School District schedules makeup days could present a challenge. There are days outside spring break when students won’t be in school, said spokeswoman Carissa Keister, but they are reserved by union contract for use by teachers for grading and conference preparation. One option would be to negotiate a memo of understanding with the union to allow those days to be used for makeup. But whether to pursue that strategy has yet to be determined, Keister said. The board plans to discuss the issue on Feb. 13.