An unusually high number of canceled school days has some area districts still guessing how to make them up.
Four days of school is what most districts have called off so far this year. That’s the most days many can ever remember in one year.
“Uncanny,” says Brainerd Superintendent Steve Razidlo.
“An anomaly,” said Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm.
“Unprecedented,” says Pillager Superintendent Chuck Arns.
And winter isn’t over yet. February and March can bring more snow and more cold. Maybe even more canceled school days.
For now, district leaders have to map out how to make up some or all of the days.
Brainerd had four days called off. Easter Monday has already been named to make up one. The other three will be looked at by the school board at the February meeting.
Razidlo guesses they will be made up with a combination of student days and staff work days, which will likely have to be added on to the end of the school year.
The school calendar has June 4 as the last day of school, with graduation June 6.
That gives some room to work, Razidlo said.
“We want to steer away from adding additional minutes (to school days) and Saturday school,” which Razidlo said some districts are considering.
Pillager schools also called off four days, but will most likely only make up three, Arns said.
The school board will make the final decision, but Arns speculates those days will be tacked on at the end of June, pushing classes into the second week. One could be a teacher work day.
“We’re keeping our options wide open,” Arns said, adding that the coming months could bring heavy snow.
Aitkin schools only called off two days of school. One of those days won’t be made up, as teachers came in anyway that day, said Superintendent Bernie Novak. The other day will be made up through a staff workshop on President’s Day.
Pequot Lakes will likely make up three of the four canceled school days, Lindholm said.
The school board will have the final say, but Lindholm thinks those days will likely be added on to the end of the year. The last day of school is May 29, not counting any snow days.
Crosby-Ironton schools will have to make up at least one of the four missed days, said Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland.
That could be made up on April 21 or it could be tacked on the end of the year, pushing back the now May 30 last day. Other days may be used as teacher training days. Those decisions will be made by the school board in February.
Calling off school is somewhat of an art form for superintendents.
It starts as early as the day before an expected storm, or 3:30 a.m. the morning of for some.
If it’s snow that’s blanketing the region, many superintendents get in the car and drive to the worst parts of their district to see just how bad the roads are.
“If the wind is blowing, we go west to see if it’s safe,” Lindholm said.
Then, it’s a game of phone tag, with superintendents calling transportation directors, consulting with county snow plow drivers and collaborating other superintendents in neighboring school districts on what they think of the situation.
Add in multiple weather forecasts and reports and, finally, a decision has to be made.
That ultimately falls on the shoulders of the superintendent.
“It used to be cut and dry, calling school off at 30 below actual temperature and 50 below wind chill,” Arns said. “Now the reality is it’s more unpredictable.”
Lindholm added, “We do everything we can to run school. It’s such a disservice if we don’t. It’s not an easy decision.”