Governor, school districts weighing closures during next week's bitter cold

With colder temperatures coming toward an already cold Minnesota next week, school districts will have some decisions to make.

The Governor’s office is already looking ahead at the issue and looking into the possibility of closing schools due to the cold.

It’s a move that has only happened four times in the past quarter century, and while nobody who spoke to FOX 9 is anticipating closing schools, the forecast suggests it’s a possibility that’s being monitored.

One former Governor said to not rule it out.

“If you want school children to like you, close the schools for a day,” said former Gov. Arne Carlson with a laugh. 

From the warmth of his Florida home, Carlson recalled the extremely rare move to cancel Minnesota schools statewide, which he did three times during his tenure in 1994, 1996 and 1997.

“The kids were absolutely tickled pink,” Carlson said. “To this day, I still get comments.”

Carlson called it a simple decision to keep kids home given the National Weather Service in those days calling for 60 or 80 below zero wind chills in some areas.

“Driving through the ice, you begin to understand how inadequately young children are prepared in terms of clothing with the type of weather we had,” Carlson said. “It’s unconscionable they would stand out there and not freeze to death. I just thought it was inhumane. I thought the appropriate response was no, close the schools.”

Currently, Gov. Tim Walz’s office says they are in communication with the Department of Education, but they pointed to more recently when Gov. Mark Dayton shutdown schools across the state in 2014.

It was the first frigid day coming back from holiday break and mainly due to problems with buses that hadn’t run in weeks and kids returning to classrooms where thermostats had been turned down.

More than anything, Gov. Walz has to weigh protecting kids from the cold versus thousands of kids going without school lunch for the day and parents missing work to stay home with their kids.

“I really trust local officials and superintendents to make these decisions,” said Walz. “We’ll certainly see when it’s the proper role.”

Carlson says the only pushback he received when closing schools was from St. Paul Public Schools, which now have a very clear policy.

Schools will be cancelled if the wind chill is predicted to be 35 below zero or actual temperature 25 below zero at 6 a.m. that school day. The call will be made before 6:30 p.m. the evening prior.

Minneapolis and several districts have policies that are very similar to this.