Missed days due to snow, cold won’t count against schools

Minnesota schools will catch a break for class cancellations due to inclement weather, under a deal that could get a final vote as soon as Thursday.

House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement to forgive days off due to snow, cold or other health and safety reasons. Once signed -- Gov. Tim Walz has voiced support for the concept -- the bill will let school boards decide if they want to write off missed days without risk of financial repercussions from the state. It applies only to this school year.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said it will ensure that schools "are not penalized for the polar vortex."

Senate Education Committee Chair Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said it provides ample flexibility.

“The three things that we all held dear were one protecting our kids from risky travels, then keeping our districts whole and then we hope they could keep their employees whole," Nelson said.

To receive their expected levels of state aid, districts would have to pay hourly employees for the missed time or give them a chance to make it up. Contractors such as bus companies also won protections from lost revenue in order to pay their employees.

Some districts have canceled classes because of heavy snow, extreme cold or tornadoes. Spring flooding has kept other districts on edge.

School officials have been adjusting their calendars to add hours to remaining days or extending the school year to meet the minimum standards for instruction time. This would provide an alternative.

In other places, digital learning has gained popularity after a recent law change allowing it as a substitute for in-person classes up to five times per year.

The agreement requires districts to report to the Department of Education on the number of days they won't make up.

Winkler said parents concerned about lost classroom time should contact their school administrators.

"The bill that we have does not require school districts in any particular way. It just gives them more flexibility if they choose to so it is fundamentally a local decision," Winkler said.

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