Winter that won't stop: Minn. lawmakers consider school snow day relief

As school districts scramble to make up for snow days, two Minnesota lawmakers say the state needs to let schools off the hook.

Differing plans from DFL state Rep. Shelly Christensen and Republican state Sen. Carla Nelson would forgive all or some of the snow days across the state. Gov. Tim Walz supports the effort, though he hasn’t chosen a favorite approach. 

Both measures could be up for votes on the House and Senate floor next week, though lawmakers would have to develop a consensus bill that could pass both chambers. The clock is ticking: some school administrators have already decided to use holidays, spring break, or June summer vacation to make up lost time.

“Our schools are trying to make sure they have the required numbers of days. But the weather is not being very favorable to that,” Nelson, R-Rochester, said in an interview this week.

Schools in Minnesota are required to hold classes on 165 days. Many districts build in snow days, but a cold and snowy winter has put some districts over their limit. The Stillwater Area Public Schools held class on President’s Day and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan District 196 will hold classes on Friday, April 19 - which was originally scheduled as a day off.

Nelson’s bill would allow school boards to count snow days as instructional days and avoid penalties for falling short of the state’s requirement. Districts would be required to report their plans to the state education commissioner. The bill passed a Senate committee this week and awaits action on the floor.

Christensen’s bill specifically forgives three snow days that happened during bone-chilling cold in late January. It also requires districts to pay or provide compensatory time to hourly workers who weren’t paid during the three-day cold spell.

“We’re hoping we can get it to happen within a week,” said Christensen, DFL-Stillwater. “We need to get it out there, because [school] calendar planning right now is especially important.”

Christensen filed her measure on Thursday. It’ll get a committee hearing early next week and could be ready for a full House vote by late in the week, Majority Leader Ryan Winkler told FOX 9 in a telephone interview.

Walz is still reviewing both measures and supports legislation to waive the minimum instructional days for the 2018-19 school year, said Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for the governor.

“The governor has assured school districts that they will not be penalized for keeping their students safe, and he is ready to work with the Legislature to make that happen,” Tschann said in an emailed statement.

Kirk Schneidawind, executive director for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said snow day forgiveness has become a top concern for school officials, especially in southern Minnesota. Schneidawind said he’s been telling administrators not to count on relief from the Legislature.

“We’re suggesting to our districts, because of the uncertainty around this, to plan ahead as if nothing will happen,” Schneidawind said in a telephone interview. If a bill does pass, school administrators could use it as a fallback option, he said.