Frigid weather cancels school three times in six days

No make-up days required yet

Steam billows out of the Central Learning Center, which sat mostly empty as school was cancelled Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Mary Bailey)
Steam billows out of the Central Learning Center, which sat mostly empty as school was cancelled Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Mary Bailey)

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

For the third, fourth and fifth days this month, all classes and activities in the Forest Lake school district were canceled Thursday, Jan. 23, and again on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 27 and 28.

Community Education events and activities, including school-age child care, were also canceled.

Losing five days of school for cold weather this winter brings the district closer to the state-required 165 days of instruction, but with some wiggle room still.

Students started the year with 174 or 175 days on the calendar, depending on whether they attend elementary or secondary school. The last day of school is scheduled for Thursday, June 5.

A few more cancellations are allowable before the district is required to make up lost days. But make-up days could be scheduled even if they are not required, if losing too many days is eating into the quality of education.

Superintendent Linda Madsen said she plans to make a recommendation to the School Board at the Feb. 6 meeting.

In addition to extending the year past June 5, the district has the option of taking back days from the March 10-14 spring break or from Good Friday, Memorial Day or teacher in-service days. But families can rest assured that spring break will not be affected.

“I will not be recommending make-up days during spring break,” Madsen said.

When deciding whether to cancel school, the superintendent consults with Transportation Supervisor John Gray.

“Our concern is student safety,” she said. Because the Forest Lake school district covers more than 200 square miles, she said, it can take 30 minutes to get a replacement bus out if one breaks down, stranding a busload of children.

Some buses are parked outdoors at the home of the driver, she said, and may be difficult to start on very cold days.

Madsen and Gray discuss the situation at 3:30 or 4 a.m., she said. If snow is involved, Gray dispatches observers to check out the back roads, which may not have been plowed.

Madsen may also consult superintendents from nearby districts, she said, but bases her decision on local circumstances. The Centennial district, for example, covers less than 30 square miles. Also, some districts must take into account that students who live within a mile of a school get there by walking. Forest Lake offers busing to 100 percent of its students.

A no-school day for students applies also to teachers, paraprofessionals and bus drivers. District administrators (directors), principals and custodians are required to come to work.

Madsen said she has received about 15 or 20 calls or emails supporting the school closings in January and two calls objecting.