Parents scramble to make child care plans as Dayton closes schools on Monday

Snow day
Elise Ellis, 10, (left) and Maya Martin, 4, (right) enjoy a snow day earlier this winter in Duluth.
Derek Montgomery / For MPR News

Gov. Mark Dayton has ordered all Minnesota public schools to close on Monday because of the extremely cold weather being forecast.

Some of the coldest temperatures in nearly a decade will settle over the state early next week, prompting fears that students sent off to school might get frostbite, or buses may break down.

But for many parents the unexpected day off from school has them scrambling to make other arrangements for their children.

Dayton said his decision came down to the safety of students.

Temperatures on Monday morning are expected to dip down to 20 to 30 degrees below zero across the state, and the highs likely will be more than 10 degrees below zero.

Meanwhile, the wind chill could hit 30, 40 or even 50 below.

State Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius, said those are the numbers she and the governor were most worried about, given that many students might have to wait at a bus stop or walk to school.

"When you reach 30 below wind chills, you're talking a matter of minutes for getting frostbite," she said.

Cassellius said officials also are concerned that buses would break down in the cold weather, especially after sitting idle the last few weeks while students were on winter break.

Monday's school closings also will affect preschool, before school and after school programs in public schools.

The governor's decision doesn't apply to private schools or daycare facilities which will have to make their own decisions on whether to open.

Local districts will decide whether or not to make up the day in the spring. That will depend on how many more weather-related closures they have this winter.

For parents, the state decision to keep students home will mean reconfiguring their schedules, if possible, to cover child care needs.

Drew Johnson, of St. Paul, will stay home on Monday to take care of his six-year old son, Marty, who's a first grader.

"I'm really pleased that Governor Dayton is doing this, this early especially," Johnson said. "Giving us three days instead of saying on Sunday night, 'Scramble everybody.'"

State officials say they understand an unexpected day off can be tough, especially for single parents or those who can't take time off. They say that's why they made the decision now, to give parents time to get things sorted out.

But some parents thought the governor's move was a bit premature.

"They're closing school two full days away," said Jen Holper, of New Hope. "What happens if it comes in early and is done by Monday, what if the cold day is really Sunday? Weather predictions aren't always 100 percent accurate."

Holper said she'll try to get some work done from home on Monday, but will most likely have to take the day off to watch her 8-year old son.

Jennifer Batten of Brooklyn Park spent much of Friday sending notes back and forth with her husband to iron out Monday's schedule. They have four children, three in elementary school and one in daycare.

"We might have to do the old switcheroo," Batten said. "Mommy goes to work in the morning them comes home to rescue Daddy in the afternoon."

Batten doesn't fault the governor for closing schools on Monday, but wishes he would have gone one step further in giving parents a break.

"I also think the governor could be encouraging businesses who have non-essential employees to encourage people to stay home if necessary," she said. "And he could be closing certain state offices as well."

Steve Niklaus, superintendent in the central Minnesota city of Annandale, said allowing students to head out for school on Monday was a risk not worth taking. He thinks the governor's move makes sense.

"Some people get irritated with the governor for making a decision like this," Niklaus said. "I think it's just fine."

On Monday morning in the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts, all schools will have a staff member on hand just in case a student comes to school. They'll give them a warm place to hang out until they can find them a ride home.

The Anoka-Hennepin district won't have a staff member on hand, but officials say they'll send out lots of reminders to parents about the closure.

St. Paul officials also will open community recreation centers. But they have cancelled all programs and will have only a skeleton crew in place.

The head of the Minnesota teacher union Education Minnesota said parents and caregivers should encourage students to do some homework, or some reading, on their day off.

As public schools and other educational institutions across the state announce plans to close on Monday due to extreme cold, the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus will remain open. Most students are on winter break now.

"We have employees that are neccesary to maintain the building functions and to take care of the laboratory and animal facilities that we have so we feel like we can execute that mission safely," said Eric Kaler, U of M president.

Kaler says he's urging supervisors to let employees take the day off if they feel it's unsafe to go to work.

The University employs about twenty-five-thousand employees across the state. Other University of Minnesota campuses are also planning to remain open. Officials urge students to check campus websites for any updates.

Other Monday closings: UPDATED 5:45 p.m., Friday, Jan. 3

• Blake School
• Community Action Head Start
• Cretin-Derham Hall
• Dunwoody College of Technology
• International School of Minnesota
• MacPhail Center for Music
• Mounds Park Academy
• St. Cloud State University
• St. Paul Academy
• South Central Technical College - Faribault and North Mankato
• University of St. Thomas

• Minnesota Zoo
• All Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation programs
• Minneapolis Park buildings closed and programs cancelled
• Eden Prairie's outdoor skating and sledding facilities
• Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area
• Downhill skiing at Elm Creek Winter Recreation Area

• Basilica of St. Mary
• Bridging
• Eureka Recycling is canceling Monday pick-up; Rest of schedule pushed back one day
• MRCI WorkSource