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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 31 2014

Area school districts running out of bad weather make-up days, respond to critics of called-off day

MOORHEAD - The Moorhead School District had to take a snow day on its snow day.

Monday was supposed to be a makeup day for bad weather on Jan. 16.

And no day had been chosen to make up for Jan. 22.

“It’s been a long winter,” Superintendent Lynne Kovash said.

Intense cold and blizzards this winter have plowed through the options area schools have to make up class time.

The Fargo School District used its last scheduled storm day this year for the blizzard forecast for Monday. The makeup day will be April 21, the district announced.

West Fargo schools were also closed, and parents were told the district may extend school days to make up the time lost.

Meanwhile, under Minnesota law, Moorhead and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton schools can decide not to make up days lost to foul weather, but officials said they’ll schedule teachers for training to make up for the time lost.

Monday’s closings created a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation for area schools.

After all, there wasn’t enough snow to coat the ground in F-M until 2:30 p.m. – though the storm was supposed to bear down quickly when it arrived.

F-M superintendents said the potential danger outweighed convenience.

“When you have a blizzard warning and it tells you that there’s extreme danger, if something happened to a student,” Moorhead Public Schools would be criticized and maybe in a legal bind, Kovash said.

That thought was echoed by Bryan Thygeson, superintendent for Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton schools.

Thygeson said the original blizzard warning called for the storm to roll through at 7 a.m. Then it was delayed to late morning. All of the forecasts indicated that conditions could ice up area roads, he said.

“Blizzard warnings, we treat that as automatic (to close the schools). That’s protocol,” Thygeson said. “We’re not going to put our people in a blizzard warning. We’re going to put safety first.”

“Could we have gotten the morning in? Maybe. … But if we had an accident or two (with buses or parents ferrying kids), how do you explain to people that you sent people out in a blizzard warning?” he asked

“I will always err on the side of caution for all of our stakeholders. It’s not just the kids. It’s the staff, teachers and parents,” Thygeson said.

Thygeson, Kovash, and spokeswomen for Fargo and West Fargo public schools said the districts made their decisions before Sunday night’s 10 p.m. news broadcasts to give families time to plan their days.

All of them said they consult with the National Weather Service, other superintendents and law enforcement to get input.

Moorhead junior Micaela Mjoness said it was odd this winter that schools were calling snow days so far in advance instead of waiting until the morning to check out conditions.

She said there have been other days this year when school wasn’t canceled that she had to go to school despite heavy snow.

While she enjoyed her day off at West Acres mall with her younger sister and grandmother, Mjoness said she doesn’t want to make up for snow days at the end of the year.

“I’d rather not sit there for another two days, but it’s Minnesota – what are you going to do?” she said.

With blizzard conditions not appearing until late Monday afternoon, students like Mjoness and her sister sought refuge from the weather – and boredom – at the mall.

For seventh-graders Riley Woodward of West Fargo, and Char Clarke and BobbiJo Lee of Fargo, there’s not much to do on snow days.

“We don’t go out and play in the snow anymore,” Lee explained.

The middle-schoolers said they’re typically stuck at home unless they see a movie, go to the mall or hang out at a friend’s house.

Their parents dropped them off early Monday afternoon and were expected to pick them up around 6 p.m.

Kovash took calls criticizing her decision.

“I know it’s an inconvenience. I know it’s tough for some families. But again, the bottom line is the safety of the students,” she said.

West Fargo School District leaders told parents it may add time to school days to make up for Monday, spokeswoman Heather Konschak said.

“We do not have any remaining storm makeup days,” she said. “So if this day cannot be forgiven (by the state Department of Public Instruction), we would have to lengthen the school day.”

Kovash said her recommendation to the School Board will be to not make up the days lost to bad weather but to find options for staff training.

She said if the board wants students to make up the class time, there are a couple of options: April 18 (Good Friday) or tack on a day at the end of the school year.

For Fargo’s public schools, any other makeup days for bad weather will have to be tacked on to the end of the school year, spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Forum reporter Cali Owings contributed to this report