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Unusually high number of snow days this year for area schools

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This year’s extreme winter weather forced Pequot Lakes School District officials to call off school a total of five days, along with one late start. The Pine River-Backus (PR-B) School District closed six days and started late twice.

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For both districts, one of those canceled days was a statewide closure Gov. Mark Dayton ordered because of near record-breaking cold temperatures.

In a typical year, two snow days would be considered a high number, said Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm, but this year’s winter has been an exception to that rule.

In February, the Pequot Lakes School Board voted to add three days to the end of the school year to make up for some lost instruction time. Students will now have classes May 30 and June 2 and 3. The PR-B School Board also extended its year by three days, making June 4 the final student day.

Although one of Pequot Lakes’ snow days came after the decision to extend the school year, Lindholm said he and the board have no intentions to add more days to the schedule.

Minnesota state statute requires 165 days of school or 1,020 instructional hours, and Lindholm said Pequot Lakes is well beyond the statutory requirements.

“We have quite a bit of cushion,” he said.

Lindholm said the board decided not to shorten spring break because of its importance to area families, and the district didn’t have as much leeway to convert professional development days into additional instruction days.

“We took the path of least resistance,” he said. “You can get at it in different ways, but it’s whether you are intentional and purposeful with how you use your time.”

Snow days do not impact district revenues, Lindholm said, but they do impact wages for hourly employees, such as bus drivers and cooks. Adding the instructional days to the schedule also adds back missed days for these employees.

The PR-B district faced many of the same difficulties. Like Pequot Lakes, the PR-B School Board and teachers spoke in February about possibly scheduling makeup days during spring break. Board members decided against shortening spring break because they received feedback, the majority of which was in favor of adding days at the end of the school year.

The cold and snow also affected athletic teams who missed practice on snow days.

“When we close school, it’s not really a policy, but it’s just a general rule that we send kids home. We did do that a few times,” said PR-B Activities Director Randy Schwegel.

More upsetting was the girls’ basketball game against Pequot Lakes that was canceled at the end of the season.

“We didn’t have anywhere to push it because our schedule was tied up. It was with Pequot and their schedule was tied up. Then the playoffs happened, so we just didn’t have anywhere to push it to,” Schwegel said.

Pequot Lakes Activities Director Marc Helmrichs said winter sports teams saw an unusually high number of postponements and cancellations this season, but he did not feel like the cold weather kept fans away.

“Although we ended up canceling the one girls’ basketball game (against PR-B), as far as the ones that were rescheduled, I think attendance was normal,” Helmrichs said.

With the slow snow melt, spring sports teams are still feeling the pinch.

“We are pretty happy about the way things are going right now ... No, we’re not, it’s terrible,” Schwegel said. “We’ve already postponed track meets and softball games, baseball games. We already had some cancellations this week and then already for next week because places are just not going to be dried up. The impact for us is we are locked inside.”

While some teams are able to practice inside batting cages and open gymnasiums, Schwegel said that is not the same.

“It’s not real, live pitching, so it’s different. You have to go outside and catch fly balls against the sky, not in a gym. It’s not the same thing,” he said.

Schwegel hopes they won’t have a repeat of spring 2012, when PR-B canceled eight to 10 baseball and softball games.

The Pequot Lakes track team has had the opportunity to participate in two indoor meets at Bemidji State University this spring, but so far, the baseball and softball teams have been unable to get on the field.

A varsity baseball game at PR-B scheduled for Thursday, April 3, was canceled, and the junior varsity and varsity baseball games scheduled Monday, April 7, in Osakis were postponed to April 21. A doubleheader versus Crosby-Ironton scheduled for Tuesday, April 8, was also postponed to May 13.

The varsity softball team was supposed to begin its season with a doubleheader at Crosby-Ironton on April 8, but the games were postponed until April 28.

With 60- and 70-degree temperatures within sight, it seems likely the spring sports seasons will get a jumpstart soon, but for now, Helmrichs said the athletics department is doing “the best with what we’ve got.”

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