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Students hopeful for cancellations, but sometimes cold is not enough

With the arrival of true winter temperatures, some school children and parents were anticipating school closings or late starts this week. But it takes more than below zero temperatures to keep a good school down in Minnesota.

With the arrival of true winter temperatures, some school children and parents were anticipating school closings or late starts this week. But it takes more than below zero temperatures to keep a good school down in Minnesota.

Pine River-Backus Superintendent Cathy Bettino and Transportation Director Tom Bristow determine school closings for that district. Together, they take many weather conditions into account.

"We just kind of keep an eye on the weather and, depending on the situation, we make decisions based on what we are seeing. Cold alone isn't necessarily going to do anything," Bettino said.

For the Pequot Lakes School District, the decision to cancel school depends on one simple issue.

"As a general rule, we will have school if we can start our buses and get kids to school," Superintendent Chris Lindholm said. "As our fleet turns over and we get more diesel buses, starting them and running them in very cold temperatures is really the challenge. We talk to the transportation director here and in Brainerd, Crosby and Pine River. If we can start enough buses, we are going to run. If we can't, that is what pulls the trigger on closing school."

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According to Lindholm, the district rarely entertains the thought of delaying school two hours due to the cold, as they typically do not gain much in terms of air temperature improvement over the course of those two hours.

"We just make the decision based on the conditions with the priority of keeping the kids safe," he said.

In Minnesota, where below zero temperatures are natural, wind chill and snow are often considered more important for safety.

"With the cold, it mostly depends on wind chill. When it gets to that 45-50 degrees below we get pretty anxious. Some of our district is in pretty open country. We keep an eye on that," Bettino said. "If it's snowing, I think we are more apt to close due to snow because we have so many country roads that don't get plowed right away. We normally watch the weather, but we are also in contact with the townships and the county."

Considering the late end date for the spring 2014 semester, Bettino is hoping to avoid cancellations and late starts this year, though she said she will not compromise child safety to reach that goal.

"I'm going for zero this year if I can do it," Bettino said.

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