The unusually high number of school closings has drawn legislative attention and a pronouncement from Gov. Tim Walz. Where does all this stand? What are your options as a school district?
As the snow and wind pile up the number of school closings across the state, many districts have exceeded their scheduled make up dates and e-learning days for those districts that met the criteria for e-learning days prior to the start of the school year. This has caused much discussion anywhere you go in the state, including at the State Capitol.
“The Governor has assured local school districts that they will not be penalized for keeping their students safe,” a spokesman for the governor initially announced Jan. 31. Minnesota statute 120A.41 calls for minimum of 165 days of instruction of instruction for grades 1-11, unless a school district has an approved plan for a four-day week. The Governor has not submitted a specific request yet to the legislature to do that.
A policy bill from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), which could include that request, will be heard Tuesday in House Education Policy.
Regardless, there are already bills in play in both the House and Senate:
In the Senate, Chair Carla Nelson has moved her bill (SF 1743) through the E-12 Committee to allow school boards by resolution to count school days canceled in 2018-19 due to inclement weather toward the minimum number of days and hours of instruction. SF 1743 passed out of the Senate E-12 Committee and is scheduled for a second reading on the Senate Floor on Monday.
In the House, HF 1819 (Christensen) would allow school districts to count Jan 29-31 (polar vortex days) as instructional days and directs school districts to either allow employees to make up those days or compensate employees for those days. This bill has been referred to House Education Policy Committee and has not been scheduled for a hearing a yet. House Education Finance Chair Jim Davnie told a group of superintendents last week that they were not done tweaking the bill because contracted employees were not included with safeguards as were district employees.
When the Senate sends their bill to the House, the House could concur, and it would be the first bill this year to be sent to Gov. Walz for signature. But there are significant differences between the bills so that would be a surprise. More likely the House Policy Committee will schedule HF 1819 soon. Hopefully it will be sent to the House floor as a stand-alone bill and not get caught up the Omnibus bill process which takes the whole session to complete.
If the House proceeds to pass HF 1819, we could have our first conference committee of the session. That would answer a number of questions, the most important being, can the House and Senate work out their differences with productive compromise, and in doing so provide guidance to school districts.
When MREA inquired MDE on school closings in late February, MDE shared that there is no financial penalty for not meeting state requirements for the minimum number of days and hours in the school year, except for programs where average daily membership (ADM) is calculated using hours.
- Extended time ADM
- Early childhood special education ADM
- Kindergarten disabled ADM
- Voluntary Pre-K or School Readiness plus ADM
For all other programs, students who are enrolled all year will generate 1.0 ADM even if the hours or days in the school year fall short of the state requirements.
Since these provisions are spelled out in statute, legislation would be required to provide exceptions.
There are a lot of concerns about school calendars this year due to the unusually large number of school closings due to extreme cold and snow and encourage school leaders to continue the dialogue with state policymakers about how these should best be addressed. Student and staff safety is always the paramount concern when school districts consider school closings.