Record snows cause excessive number of snow days for students

By : 
Charlie Warner
News Leader

The winter of 2018-19 could very well be the snowiest winter on record, and they’ve been keeping track of records for 135 years. The numerous snow events the area has experienced this season has been a hardship for many, but also a boon for those in the snow removal business, ski slopes, snowmobilers and businesses selling snow blowers, shovels and ice melt.

The many snowstorms have also been to the delight of most elementary and high school students. As of March 8, area schools have had between eight and nine days when school has been cancelled, along with a number of late starts.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Heath Olstad, Fillmore Central Principal. “So far, we’ve had eight snow days. I sure hope spring is right around the corner.”

Lanesboro Superintendent Matt Schultz said his district has cancelled school nine days, along with a few late starts. This winter even exceeds the 2011-12 winter when the school district he previously worked in called off school eight times.

With March traditionally being the “snowiest” month, will students (and teachers) be stuck in the classrooms way into June?

“That won’t happen,” Schultz said. “The state mandate is for 165 days. We scheduled 176 days for this school year. So we’ve still got a two-day padding left.”

And there are two variables that would keep the school year from being extended due to snow days. The first is that every school district can set their schedules. School districts have the option of modifying their number of days, regardless of the state mandate.

The second is the proposed “Snowday Release Act of 2019” that the state legislature is currently considering. If it passes, it would lift the 165-day mandate for one year.

While students at many area schools do have the day off when a snow day is called, those attending Fillmore Central elementary and high schools actually are required to do some studying. Called “Flex Learning Days,” students in seventh through 12th grades are required to get their assignments via the internet and work on those during the snow day. Students in first through sixth grade are given activity sheets that they are required to work on while at home.

According to Fillmore Central Superintendent Richard Keith, FC students have had eight flex learning days. The state will allow five such days, so even though FC schools have been closed eight times due to snow and/or cold, only three of those days were counted as snow days. The FC district has 175 school days on its calendar this year. So if winter finally mellows, and no more snow days are called, the FC district would be seven days over the state minimum.

When asked if he’d ever seen a winter like this, Keith said not in Minnesota. But when he was teaching in Iowa, they had 14 snow days. And, in Iowa, you have to make them up. He recalled that class was in session well into June, and Iowa schools traditionally start about two weeks earlier than their neighbors to the north.   

Mabel-Canton Principal Michelle Weidemann reported that the M-C School District has been forced to call off school nine days so far this winter, along with a few late starts. They had seven snow days built into their calendar for the year and held school on Presidents’ Day (to make up one day) and will also hold school on Good Friday, which was originally scheduled as a holiday.

“I don’t ever recall nine snow days,” Weidemann said. “The most I can remember is six. It’s been a crazy winter. I sure hope spring will arrive soon.”

When asked if the M-C district has considered the flex learning program similar to Fillmore Central’s, Weidemann said there haven’t been any serious discussions about it, although with this year’s snowy winter, a flex learning program has casually been brought up.