After string of canceled school days, parents search for child care, entertainment for kids

Young swimmers take to the pool at Oxford Community Center in St. Paul. Their parents brought them here to burn off some energy after several days at home.
Tim Post / MPR News

Many school districts across the state have canceled classes again Tuesday because of frigid temperatures and dangerous wind chills. This is the fifth day of cancellations due to cold weather this month for many of those schools.

For working parents finding childcare during these cancellations can be a challenge — and parents with flexible schedules are running out of ways to keep their kids from going stir-crazy during these long winter days at home.

At the Jacobsen household in Winona, Minn., cabin fever has taken hold. Aurora Jacobsen reports her daughter Adele, who is in second grade, has been asking to use the treadmill because she just needs to run, even in place.

"I do miss my teacher and my friends, but yeah it's kind of fun," Adele said.

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Elizabeth O'Toole brought her kids and a couple of their friends to the Oxford Community Center water park in St. Paul.

"We are here to get them out of the house, a change of scenery, look at some different walls," said O'Toole, who lives in St. Paul.

This crew is also a bit conflicted about their cold vacation days.

Will O'Toole-Cousins, 11, puts a positive spin on the days off. "I'm happy because I get to spend time with my friends, so it's good for me."

But 8-year-old Luce Lewandowski, seems ready to head back to class. "I'm bored. Because I really like school and [there's] nothing to do."

Since school was out because of the cold again on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, Luz O'Toole-Cousins, 7, Will O'Toole-Cousins, 11, Ian Matenaer, 10, and Luce Lewandowski, 8, spent time in the pool at the Oxford Community Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Tim Post / MPR News

In the end these friends agree, as fun as it's been, they've had enough time off from school.

The school cancellations haven't been easy on parents, especially those without flexibility in their work schedules.

"A lot of the families we work with say they don't get a lot of paid time off, so going to work is critical for their family income," said Deby Ziesmer, the vice president of early childhood education at the YWCA of Minneapolis.

When school is canceled in Minneapolis and surrounding districts, the YWCA allows students enrolled in before- and after-school programs to stay all day.

"We know what's going on in the schools and we can help with homework, we can quiz them on spelling words, we do all kind of stuff and the kids are still learning," Ziesmer said.

Some Minnesota school districts are opening their fee-based programs so kids have a place to go during the day Tuesday. The city of Minneapolis is opening all 47 recreation centers at noon, three hours early.

The 1,100 students at Benilde-St. Margaret's, a private 7-12 grade Catholic school in St. Louis Park, are not excused from getting some school work done even though school is canceled again Tuesday.

On Monday teachers started using the school's online portal to give assignments. Students are required to log in and do homework.

"With so many days in such a short period of time, this is a natural, easy decision to make to require online school," said Principal Susan Skinner.

Friday was originally supposed to be a day off for Benilde students, but a make-up day has been scheduled instead.

Minnesota's public schools also are considering their own make-up days.

State law requires a high schooler have a minimum of 1,020 hours in class, which is roughly 165 days.

The school calendars at the state's two largest districts, Anoka-Hennepin and St. Paul, will accommodate the days off for cold weather, so far. Any more will require make-up days shoehorned into the school year or tacked on in June.

Minneapolis has set make-up days for Feb. 14 and March 28.

It's worth noting, or maybe reminiscing, that Minneapolis canceled classes for two days in late August because of the heat.