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Minnesota Senate backs snow-day relief for schools

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Reed and Brennan Schumann, 14 and 10, sled during their snow day.
Reed and Brennan Schumann, 14 and 10, sled in their front yard on Monday, Jan. 28 as they enjoy a day off from school because of a snow storm in St. Paul, Minn. Amid a brutal winter, many districts have called off a week or more of classes.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated 3:43 p.m. | Posted 12:23 p.m.

Minnesota school districts are halfway to winning flexibility from the Legislature to write off the winter's snow days.

The Senate voted 61-2 Thursday for a bill that would let district leaders shorten the academic year rather than schedule makeup days. Amid a brutal winter, many districts have called off a week or more of classes.

The legislation recognizes the unusual weather hardships for schools this year, said state Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester. Without it, some districts "may be put in a precarious position of weighing the safety of students and staff with the threat of not meeting their school calendar as designed by law."

The bill makes clear that probationary teachers and other school staff won't be punished for the reduced calendar.

A companion House bill has yet to reach a floor vote. The current House version offers more limited relief by only excusing days canceled during a severe cold snap in late January.

"It's a little too broad,"House Education Policy Committee Chair Cheryl Youakim said of the Senate language. "We also want to have that balance that our kids actually in school for the days for they need to be here. We wanted to give a little wiggle room for the districts. Not this much wiggle room."

More cancellations are possible so Minnesota isn't out of the weather woods yet, added Youakim, DFL-Hopkins.

The soonest the House will vote on its version is Wednesday. That would touch off negotiations with the Senate to clear up differences.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz says he's on board with waiving days without financial penalty to districts.