When Brainerd School District officials decide to cancel school for the day, not everyone receives the message in time.
This is why it can be a tough call to cancel school or not, Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth said.
Walseth made the decision at 5 a.m. Monday to cancel school for the day because the temperature dropped to about 35 degrees below zero. He said by about 7:45 a.m. the temperature dropped to about 37 below zero.
Walseth said he drove two Brainerd High School students home Monday morning when they showed up at the school. A few Forestview Middle School students also arrived at school to discover school had been canceled for the day due to the subzero temperatures.
The safety of students, said Walseth, is ultimately why he decided to cancel school Monday. Walseth said he was told at 5 a.m. that the bus drivers were concerned because the diesel bus engines were beginning to gel, which means the buses could stall while picking up students, stranding them in a cold bus or waiting at a bus stop. Walseth said a two-hour delay can cause more problems when parents don't get the message and temperatures usually don't warm up significantly in two hours.
Walseth said while several parents criticized the district Friday for not canceling school, district officials have to take into consideration that many parents rely on the schools to be open.
"Parents have come to assume our schools are open," said Walseth. "The more you play with that kind of thing, the more you mess up parents' lives. The thing we have to keep in mind, can we safely deliver kids to school? Today we couldn't take that chance on the engines gelling. If we got out in the middle of some route and for whatever reason the engine shut down, we put kids at jeopardy and we're not willing to do that."
Walseth said some confusion may have occurred Monday morning because a few Twin Cities television media outlets apparently opted not to broadcast the school closing announcements at first because it didn't affect many school districts around the state, as most were closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Walseth said he heard that people complained to the news stations and the school closings were broadcast but later than they normally would have been aired.
Walseth reminded parents there are a variety of sources they may turn to in the mornings to find out if school is canceled, including the school information hotline, the public access television channel, the district's Web site, area radio stations and others.
While many area schools were closed Monday to commemorate King, Brainerd and McGregor school districts opted to close for weather-related reasons. Walseth said the district was on a tight school calendar this year to accommodate its multi-building construction projects. Historically, Brainerd schools have not closed on the holiday that celebrates the life of the late civil rights leader, which is partly because many believe students are more likely to learn about King's achievements in the classroom rather than at home on Monday, Walseth said.
Walseth said it was convenient that the canceled school day happened to fall on the holiday because many parents may have had the day off from work. Walseth said money is never an issue when the district decides to cancel school, as suggested by a recent Vox Pop writer in the Dispatch. Walseth said there isn't a minimum number of student days a district needs to have in order to receive funding for its students.
Walseth stressed that parents who believe their children should be home from school because of inclement weather have the right to keep their children home.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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