ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s school leaders can avoid funding cuts and even jail time if a bill at the Legislature allowing snow days to be counted as school days becomes law.
The change would only be for this school year, when frigid temps and record February snowfall forced schools to close for safety reasons. Many districts have taken a week or more off because of winter weather and typically only build a few extra days into their schedule to account for arctic temperatures and snow.
State law requires students attend school for a set number of instructional hours each year. If a district fails to meet the threshold, funding can be cut and school staff could potentially face jail time.
A state Department of Education spokesman said he was not aware of any time when a district lost funding or educators were jailed for not meeting the instruction time standard because of inclement weather.
“Across our state, extraordinary winter weather circumstances have prevented students from safely attending school,” Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, education committee chair, said in a statement announcing her bill. “In keeping our students safe, school districts face a struggle to meet Minnesota’s calendar requirement. This bill gives local school boards the option to forgive days to ensure stable funding and avoid unreasonable scheduling disruptions for students and families.”
To have the missed time forgiven, school boards would have to vote to accept the waiver. The district must report to the state the number of days they waived because of snow.
The legislation also encourages districts to have students learn at home during school cancellations for inclement weather. Many districts, especially those providing tablet and laptop computers to students, have already adopted “e-learning days,” but the state caps the number each year at five.
“While this should not be a one-size-fits-all approach, local school boards should examine if e-learning days are a fit for them in dealing with snow days in the future,” Nelson said.
Gov. Tim Walz, a former history teacher, has already expressed support for giving districts a pass this year on the time requirement. In late January a Walz spokesman said: “The Governor has assured local school districts that they will not be penalized for keeping their students safe.”
State law requires at least 935 hours of instruction for elementary students and 1,020 hours for secondary students each year. Shorter times are required for kindergarteners.
Some school districts have already decided to convert planned days off for students into instructional days to meet the state requirements. For instance, the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, which is the state’s fourth largest, plans to use a planned staff training day in April as a regular school day to help the district meet state instruction requirements.