comScore

Should Twin Cities schools have closed on Monday?

Minneapolis and St. Paul schools are closed Tuesday and Wednesday... but should they have been closed yesterday, too?

Minneapolis and St. Paul schools are closed Tuesday and Wednesday... but should they have been closed yesterday, too? David Joles, Star Tribune

Parents, teachers, and students in the Twin Cities spent much of Sunday begging, bugging, and bothering school districts for the answer to one simple question: Would there be school on Monday? Or no?

The answer in most cases was no: Minneapolis Public Schools, St. Paul Public Schools, and Anoka-Hennepin School District (the state's largest) all closed, while some districts, including Bloomington's, remained open.

In addition to closing school on Monday, Minneapolis Public Schools announced it would also be closed Tuesday and Wednesday due to historically cold weather predicted by the National Weather Service. The statement also said that while temperatures at the start of the day tomorrow do not fall into the district’s guidelines for closure, Tuesday afternoon and all of Wednesday do.

That number, by the way: a wind chill temperature of negative 35 degrees, which forecasts say Minneapolis will be "well past by the end of the school day," per the statement.

St. Paul Public Schools also announced they'd be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Other districts closing the next two days include Anoka-Hennepin, Stillwater, Duluth, and Rochester. Visit KARE11.com for a full list of closures.

The closures for dangerous temperatures for exposure are more obvious than on a day like Monday, when forecasts called for snow and cold, but a less extreme version. 

Anoka-Hennepin didn't make the decision to close schools Monday until about 10 p.m. on Sunday, superintendent David Law said. Law, his director of transportation, and the district’s chief operations officer had been monitoring Sunday’s storm and were in contact with the National Weather Service since last Thursday.

Law's was among "at least" 20 school districts that participated in a webinar with the National Weather Service on Sunday around 5 p.m. Sunday. After that meeting, Law's team deliberated for a few hours; as they did, the storm's arrival was repeatedly delayed, and Anoka-Hennepin made the decision to close schools.

“Our preference is to always have school,” Law said, but added the top priority is making sure kids can get to and from school safely. That means safe roads in the morning hours from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and in the evening from about 2:30 to 5 p.m. when there could be as many as 120 buses on the road at any given time, he said.

“It was a 50/50 call and we erred on the side of safety, which is what we always try to do,” Law said. He also said that he would have liked to wait until Monday morning to make the call to cancel school, because families are unhappy when school is canceled, only to see the roads are fine.

That last-minute closure can also create hassles for families. “About one-third of our families live below the poverty line,” Law said. “A lot of those parents are working entry-level jobs and can struggle with child care, so if they have to miss a day of work to stay home with their kids that can be a problem."

Cold temperatures are more predictable than snowfall -- the Twin Cities recieved just five inches on Sunday night -- meaning Law's team can make an earlier decision about closures like today's and tomorrow's.

Bloomington superintendent Rick Kaufman, who kept his district's schools open on Monday, had been in contact with families about Sunday’s snow storm since last Thursday. His top priority, he said, was “to minimize loss of instructional time, while making sure families are safe.”

The National Weather Service said on its website, “A potentially historic cold period is expected this week. The coldest temperatures will occur from Tuesday through Thursday.” It also said a wind chill warning will begin Tuesday and last through Thursday morning. During that time, “wind chills of 60 below zero to 35 below zero are likely.”

DFL Gov. Tim Walz, a school teacher himself, considered the idea of issuing a statewide shutdown but ultimately decided against it Monday afternoon, citing historic precedent that allows school districts to make their own decisions.

“No matter how resilient the people of Minnesota may be, this weather should be taken seriously,” Walz said. “Parents and students should pay close attention to the local news and messages from their local school district for information on school closures. All Minnesotans should make plans to stay safe.” 

Law and Kaufman said they support Walz's decision. “It’s hard for the governor to make a unique district decision. A local decision is much more likely to be made concerning the unique qualities of a district,” Law said.

The last statewide shutdown was issued by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014. Since then, a Minnesota Department of Education spokesman said, school districts have made strides to be more prepared for making their own closure decisions and improving communication with families about whether schools will be open or not