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Minnesota Senate approves bill to waive snow days for this school year

Carla Nelson

ST. PAUL — Minnesota schools are a step closer to being able to avoid making up instruction days they missed this winter because of frigid temperatures and snow.

The state Senate on Thursday, March 7, passed with a 61-2 vote the “Snow Days Relief Act” that allows districts to count school days canceled for inclement weather toward instruction time required by state law.

The harsh winter with long stretches of frigid temperatures and mountains of snow has forced some districts to cancel as many as 10 days of school.

To meet the required instructional hours, many districts would have to add time to their school calendars. If they don’t, state law technically says districts could lose money and school leaders could face jail time, although it is unclear if such penalties have ever occurred.

State Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, the bill’s chief sponsor, said adding as much as two weeks at the end of the school year could be difficult for many districts as well as students and their families.

“You can imagine what that would do to graduation,” Nelson said. “You can imagine what that could do to family vacations. … You also might note what that could do to a school’s construction calendar.”

Nelson’s bill is only for the current school year.

Debate and amendments

The Senate’s near-unanimous approval didn’t come without debate.

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, tried to change the bill to focus on the three days schools were closed for extreme cold. But the GOP-controlled Senate voted down the proposal, noting that more snow was on the way and schools could still miss time this year.

In fact, Senate Chaplain Mike Smith opened the Thursday floor session with a prayer request.

“I was asked to pray for no more snow,” Smith said to laughter. He noted appeals to a higher power are not always responded to immediately. “I believe it will be answered within 90 days.”

Before approving Nelson’s “Snow Days Relief Act,” lawmakers agreed to amend it to allow school workers who missed days because of snow to make up that time or get paid unless their union contract already includes a different policy.

Finding alternatives

Nelson’s bill also encourages districts to use e-learning days when the weather is too harsh for students to come to school. Some districts already do this, but the number of e-learning days is now limited under state law.

School leaders have urged lawmakers to act quickly if they want to forgive time missed because of snow. Many districts have already decided to convert planned days off for students into instruction days.

Gov. Tim Walz has expressed support for forgiving the missed school time. A spokesman for the governor said Walz doesn’t want to punish schools for keeping kids safe.

The Minnesota House is considering similar legislation.

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