School Cancellations: “we don’t take the decision lightly”

Jo Hoagland, Staff Writer

Katie Lins

  District officials were repeatedly faced with the question of whether to cancel school throughout the month of February due to cold temperatures, ice, and snow, according to Wayzata Superintendent Dr. Chase Anderson.
  “We don’t take the decision lightly; it’s a big decision to close down our school district for a full day or to start late,” Anderson said. “It’s a financial investment every school day, but we also want to take the security of our students and staff into consideration.”
  When the windchill reaches below -15 degrees Fahrenheit, the National Weather Service issues an advisory, and that advisory turns to warning when it drops to -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
  The National Education and Health Department have no jurisdiction over whether schools cancel; the decision is left up to the district. Anderson takes input from a team of district officials and uses his own judgment to make decisions. “I
get out there early on days that are in question so I can experience it for myself and have a better idea of what’s happening out there,” said Anderson.
  Anderson said that Supervisor of Transportation Rich Enga also surveys the conditions often.
  According to Enga, it is typically the snow that will impact the buses’ ability to function properly. Once the temperature drops to negative 30 or 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the cold can also limit bus functionality.
  “The cold can cause the buses to break down, and the snow can cause them to be late or stuck,” Enga said.
  According to Enga, the cold has become less of a problem for buses in the last four years, as Wayzata buses switched
from running on diesel fuel to propane. Enga said, “Diesel fuel actually has issues where it turns from a liquid to a gel at about 35 to 40 below.” Propane can run at any temperature.  Cancellation decisions are made with influence from
other districts as well. According to Anderson, if weather predictions are unfavorable, superintendents from different districts will contact each other.
  “What you don’t want to do as a superintendent is to be the only superintendent who called school off or be the only one who didn’t. So it really helps when we connect as a group,” Anderson said.

  According to Anderson, he is more hesitant to call an early dismissal than a late start or a full cancellation. It becomes complicated coordinating the elementary schoolers who cannot return home to an empty house midday. “If we know it’s going to be terrible in the afternoon, we would probably defer to just canceling for the day,” Anderson said.
  It is more difficult to coordinate buses for early release as well, according to Enga.
  “A lot of drivers work part-time, so it can be difficult when we have to get them out of their other job, if they have one,” Enga said.
  There are typically negative reactions one way or another when it comes to making the decision to cancel school, according to Anderson.
  “I always appreciate the support from the community and the general recognition that it is a tough decision. We take a lot of factors into account when we make these decisions; it’s hard to make the perfect decision and satisfy all of our constituents,” Anderson said.
  According to the Minnesota Department of Education, school boards are required to have 165 days of instruction for grades 1-11 on the calendar. Grades 7-12 specifically must receive 1,020 hours of instruction annually. To accommodate potential weather cancellations, school districts typically schedule more days than the required minimum.
  “If we have an extra four or five days, we’re usually in a pretty good place where we don’t have to start looking for days to make up time missed,” Anderson said.
  Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that Governor Tim Walz made a statement that he is “forgiving” the missed days of school during the week of January 28, meaning that schools who fell on track to get lower than the number of instructional days required will not have to make up days. There has been pushback from other members of the state government questioning whether Walz has the jurisdiction to make that call. It is unclear how the decision will turn out.
  “We’ll see what happens with that and I’m sure the state will do their best to put more flexibility, particularly for schools that go beyond what their built-in extra time was,” Anderson said in reference to the potential forgiveness of days.