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Area schools districts to decide whether to add school days

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The Pequot Lakes School District started two hours late Friday, April 12, while Pine River-Backus canceled school because of snow. Echo Journal photo.3 / 3

A spring snowstorm on Thursday and Friday, April 11-12, prompted area school closings and late starts. That has school calendars at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus shifting as Pequot Lakes looks to add a day and Pine River-Backus has to decide what to do about three days.

"What it means is that I need to make a decision on what I am going to recommend to the board," Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm said after that school district closed April 11 and ran two hours late April 12. "We are now one day shy of the statutory requirement for 165 (student contact) days. That means we either take advantage of the legislation that was passed this year or we have students make up a day. Either way, we have to pay staff, so I don't know yet, but I am leaning toward recommending adding one student contact day May 31."

The legislation Lindholm refers to is a bipartisan "Snow Day Relief Bill" that Gov. Tim Walz signed April 1 saying Minnesota school districts don't have to make up the days they missed because of extreme cold and snow. The bill allows school districts to avoid penalties in state law for failing to provide a certain amount of classroom instruction time.

Pine River-Backus Superintendent Dave Endicott is also considering recommending that the school board add days to the calendar after that district canceled school both April 11 and 12.

"That'll go before the board Monday night (April 15)," Endicott said. "The recommendation is to reschedule some days."

Endicott said contracts and hourly wages were both considered in his decision.

"They have a number of days they are contracted for," Endicott said of teaching staff. "That's certainly part of the consideration. The first consideration is we want to educate our kids and take every opportunity we can to do that. They also have contractual obligations and other staff members who are paid on an hourly basis or daily basis. If we don't have days, they lose pay. Part of it is being mindful of that and making sure they have an opportunity to earn what they anticipated earning coming into the year."

Both the Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus school districts, along with other area districts, decided Wednesday, April 10, to cancel school the next day because of the snowstorm that was forecast to cover the lakes area. However, the storm forecasted to begin the morning of Thursday, April 11, did not strike until around 1 p.m.

"Surprisingly, I have received no complaints, but I think our parents are very understanding," Lindholm said. "The storm was forecasted to hit us around 10 a.m., but it took its time. When it did hit, it hit hard and I would have hated to have buses and high school kids out driving in the afternoon."

"Everything pointed to the fact that everything would hit much earlier than it obviously did," Endicott said. "Our primary concern was bringing kids to school and not being able to get them safely home. I still think, even though the storm came much later, their trip home in the afternoon may have been not the safest time if we had had school. Most of the day it looked like it was not very smart (to have canceled school), but I think in this case we would rather be safe than sorry."

Though the snow continued to fall throughout Friday, April 12, in Pequot Lakes, school was delayed two hours and not cancelled outright.

"We had good visibility even though it was still snowing," Lindholm said Friday, April 12. "Yesterday was whiteout conditions, which is a very different driving scenario. This morning, we drove the routes and between the transportation director and myself, we felt like if we gave plows a few hours, the majority of our routes were very doable. We had three quite late buses, but we got everyone to school.

"I just appreciate the patience of parents. It is not an easy decision to make, and parents can always keep their kids at home if they don't feel it is safe."

Pine River-Backus almost followed suit Friday, April 12, but Endicott said the plan changed after buses had already left to pick up students.

"We had already sent our buses and vans out," Endicott said Friday, April 12. "We had a really difficult time on the roads, so our transportation director called and said it wasn't working. We were getting people stuck and not being safe. That was about 8:45 or 9 a.m. this morning. It was an hour and a half before school would start. It wasn't ideal and certainly not something I've ever had to do as a superintendent. It's a first time to have to change that call, but I think it was the safest call for all involved. The roads were much worse than we had anticipated."