St. Paul mayor criticizes today’s school closings, but superintendent defends decision as ‘Safety first’

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who has school-age kids, took a shot at the St. Paul School District for its decision to close the schools today — the second day in a row — because of the weather aftermath.

City workers are doing their best to clear the streets, and they’re nearly finished, he said, so “the decision to deny our students a second day of school puts an undue burden on parents and families.”

Valeria Silva
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Valeria Silva

Superintendent Valeria Silva, who’s celebrating her first year on the job this week, could have fired a salvo back at the mayor — after all, his folks are in charge of clearing the streets.

Instead, she took the high (and presumably, plowed) road, saying in an interview:

“I very much understand the mayor’s concerns, and the city has done an amazng job of taking 25 inches of snow off the ground and having all oiur major streets plowed. But my perspective is the safety of our students, as they get on and off the bus and in and out of school,” she said.

But parents be ready, she said: “Tomorrow [Wednesday] there will be school.” Minneapolis schools, too, will be open Wednesday after a two-day weather closing.

“This was one of the hardest decisions to make. I want every kid in school every day; missing another day of school is not a good choice for a superintendent. But we need the kids to be safe. I have to be able to look every parent in the eyes and be able to say that when they give us their most precious child, each one will be safe with us and back in their hands at the end of the day.”

She said the below-zero temperatures, coupled with many roads still clogged with snow, would lead to delayed buses in some cases.

“Kids waiting outside in these temperatures is not good; there are 6-foot piles of snow next to 3-foot-tall students. They will be climbing those piles to see if the bus is coming, and that’s a disaster about to happen,” she said.

Also, students who have disabilities often use special buses to get to school, and those buses may need even more room to load and unload on the snowbound streets, she said.

She said school transportation workers — with decades of experience — drove along school bus routes Monday night and recommended the closure for safety reasons.

“I took the information those experts gave me and decided the closing was necessary,” Silva said.

Here’s Mayor Coleman’s full statement:

Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman

“As Mayor and a parent with a child in the Saint Paul Public Schools, I disagree with the District’s decision to close the schools tomorrow {Tuesday}. While we are only three days removed from one of the largest weather events in the City’s history, we have worked side by side with the SPPS to ensure the safe transportation of our students.

“Over the last three days, we’ve undertaken one of the largest public works operations in the City’s history, more than doubling the amount of time and equipment spent clearing the roads. Having personally toured the city this evening, I am very confident that the few streets that may not have been cleared yet will be done before morning. Given our level of support and the improving condition of the roads, the decision to deny our students a second day of school puts an undue burden on parents and families.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 12/14/2010 - 02:16 pm.

    I just talked to someone at Minneapolis Public Schools for an unrelated story. He told me their second snow day was called because of the snow-pile-to-kid ratio, too.

  2. Submitted by Robert Ryan on 12/14/2010 - 06:27 pm.

    Maybe the mayor got his nose out of joint because he perceived the school closing as a criticism of the city’s efforts. I know this morning on the way in to work it was pretty bad on city streets – no criticism implied – it just takes a long time to clean up after a couple of feet of snow get dumped on you.

    I drive on city streets to get to work and I was just glad there were no school buses to contend with today. My usual seven minute drive took 30+ minutes. I’m sure had there been school there would have been kids freezing on corners waiting for very late buses.

  3. Submitted by Scott Barnard on 12/14/2010 - 08:03 pm.

    I spent a lot of time driving around St. Paul during the day Monday, and the residential streets were in awful condition. I live in Minneapolis, so there may be some crosstown bias coloring my opinion, but the residential street I live on in Longfellow was clearer than Dale St., a fairly major St. Paul thoroughfare. Side streets south of Lake Phalan, near Minneahaha and McKnight, and in the Summit area were all nightmares.

    Perhaps Mayor Coleman and the St. Paul City Council should review their snow emergency plan before criticizing the Superintendent. There is no way school buses could have possibly made it through many of the streets I saw Monday afternoon.

  4. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/14/2010 - 08:05 pm.

    And the snow piles will be shorter tomorrow? As plowing continues, the piles will get higher, but eventually school will resume in time for winter break.

  5. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 12/15/2010 - 12:00 pm.

    Right on Norm!!!! Closing schools has a HUGE economic impact due to parents missing work, not shopping, etc…. because they have kids at home.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/15/2010 - 09:24 pm.

    Mr. Rose–
    Read the whole quote:
    “Kids waiting outside in these temperatures is not good….”
    It’s not just the show piles.
    They cause traffic slowdowns and late buses, which in turn mean that kids have to wait outside longer in extremely cold weather.

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