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When is it too cool for school? Fargo-Moorhead area schools weigh in amid winter closures

January's chill has already affected classes in region

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Due to poor weather conditions, school buses ran late on Wednesday, Jan. 5., 2022.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

FARGO — On Wednesday, Jan. 5, West Fargo Public Schools canceled classes after city officials informed school officials that street crews were having trouble clearing streets and neighborhoods of snow in the wake of a cold and windy snowstorm.

Citing the impact of Friday's expected cold temperatures, Fargo Public Schools and West Fargo Public Schools both canceled Friday classes and activities.

With the low temperature Thursday night expected to reach about minus 30 degrees in the Fargo-Moorhead area, accompanied by even colder wind chills, it raised a question: Do area schools have specific weather conditions or specific temperature thresholds that determine whether classes are called off for safety reasons?

The short answer is "no."

When it comes to West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead public schools, decisions regarding whether to cancel classes are based on a number of factors.

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"Although temperature and wind chills are a part of our consideration when determining whether to cancel school during an adverse weather event, there are many factors in addition to temperature that are taken into consideration," said Brenda Richman, executive director of community engagement and public relations for Moorhead Area Public Schools.

She added, however, that for outdoor recess, the district's elementary student handbook states students will not go outside for recess once the temperature drops to 0 or the windchill reaches minus 10.

In West Fargo, the decision of whether to cancel school is based on the safety of students and on the best information available at the time the decision must be made, according to the district's website.

According to the website, factors considered include:

  • Visibility and current or expected wind conditions.
  • Road restrictions.
  • The time precipitation starts and expected amounts.
  • Alert level from the National Weather Service.
  • Temperature and wind chill.

In West Fargo, the question of whether students can go outside for noon recess depends on the temperature and wind chill.
Students in grades K-5 will stay inside before school and/or during recess when the wind chill reaches minus 15 degrees.

In Fargo, public schools maintain close communication with officials of the U.S. Weather Service, local government and neighboring school districts in order to make decisions regarding inclement weather and other emergency situations that are in the best interest of the safety of students, according to the district's website.

According to the website, the decision to hold classes is based on the general weather conditions that exist for the majority of Fargo students.

"The decision to keep schools open or to close them results for weighing factors including excessive snow, temperature or wind chill numbers, wind speeds, road conditions, and the safety of busing students," the website said.

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Like Moorhead, Fargo school officials don't let students take outdoor recess if the temperature reaches a wind chill of minus 10.

With all of that in mind, the temperature in Fargo-Moorhead is expected to drop to near minus 30 early Friday morning, with wind chills as low as minus 47, before warming to a daytime high of about 9 degrees Friday afternoon.

Friday night's low temperature is expected to be around 3 degrees, with wind chills as low as minus 20.

The daytime high Saturday is expected to be near 22 degrees.

Temperatures will turn colder again on Sunday and Monday, but daytime highs in the 20s are expected to return Tuesday and Wednesday.

In late January of 2019, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz considered ordering the closing of schools in the state because of bad weather but never put an order in place.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton closed schools across the state on Jan. 6, 2014, when the temperature was in the minus 20s in the Twin Cities, according to an MPR News story from January 2015.

The MPR News report said Gov. Arne Carlson did the same thing on Jan. 16, 1997, when it was minus 8 in the Twin Cities; on Feb. 2, 1996, when the temperature was minus 32 in the Twin Cities; and on Jan. 18, 1994, when the temperature was 16 degrees in the Twin Cities. Wind chills were significantly lower in many cases.

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