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Cassellius: Wind-chill concerns, frozen buses led to decision to close schools

Brenda Cassellius

Gov. Mark Dayton considered many factors before deciding to order all public K-12 schools in the state closed on Monday because of frigid temperatures, according to Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

Many schools will be coming off the holiday break Monday, she said in a Friday conference call with reporters, and there’s a concern that buses might not start in the extreme cold, leaving children stranded at bus stops.

The governor has the power under state law to cancel public schools under such circumstances, officials said.

Temperatures are expected to be well below -20 degrees Sunday night, and to stay in double-digit negative territory on Monday.

“We wanted to avoid confusion and make an early statement, so parents have information so they could make plans,” Cassellius said.

Factors involved in the decision were:

  • Extremely low temperatures and wind-chill danger
  • Time needed for schools and parents to plan
  • How long students have to wait at bus stops or walk to school
  • Buses sitting idle for the past two weeks.

As for Tuesday, when temperatures are likely to remain extremely cold, she said local school districts are expected to decide whether to open or not.

“As a former superintendent, I know that these decisions are usually made the day before, but because of two-week vacation, we made the decision now; we’ll monitor closely, but the local superintendents will make the decisions locally for Tuesday,” she said.

She said state officials value local control in these situation, but that this was a unique situation, coming off the long vacation and being a Monday.

There is a precedent for the governor’s call: Gov. Arne Carlson canceled school statewide three times in the mid-1990s.

The governor’s order affects only public schools, including charter schools, but Cassellius said many private schools are bound to their public counterparts because they use the public school buses.

“I assume private schools will make the decision themselves to protects students’ safety,” she said.

The MnSCU higher education system is still on break Monday and isn’t affected by the governor’s order. The University of Minnesota is still on break, too.

Cassellius said local school districts can decide whether teachers and staff report to school on Monday. She said she assumes schools will also cancel the day’s after-school activities.

She said that there should be no cost to the state or the school districts because of the closing, because state aid is paid on basis on enrollment, not number of days in session.

“State aid flows as usual,” she said.

Asked about advice to parents, who may have to scramble for day care or take the day off work, she said:

“Maybe parents can extend their vacation arrangements. The early warning may give them extra time to make plans with family or older siblings. The message is to stay warm, and hopefully people will heed those very serious warnings.”

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