Dayton closes schools Monday ahead of cold

From staff and wire reports

ST. PAUL (AP) – Gov. Mark Dayton has canceled all public school classes statewide for Monday in anticipation of dangerously cold temperatures, the first time a Minnesota governor has taken that step in 17 years.

“The safety of Minnesota’s schoolchildren must be our first priority,” Dayton said in a statement Friday.

The National Weather Service is forecasting the lowest temperatures in at least a decade Monday, with air temperatures that could reach as low as minus 30 and high temperatures only reaching the minus teens.

It’s the first time a Minnesota governor has closed schools in response to cold weather since Jan. 16, 1997. According to the State Climatology Office, former Gov. Arne Carlson called off classes that day as temperatures fell to minus 32 in the Twin Cities.

Carlson also closed schools statewide on Feb. 2, 1996. That’s the day that a state record low was set, according to the Climatology Office, when the air temperature plunged to minus 60 near the northern Minnesota town of Tower. Carlson first closed schools on Jan. 18, 1994, as temperatures hit 26 below zero in the Twin Cities.

Marshall Schools Superintendent Klint Willert respects Dayton’s decision, but believes closing school should be a call made on the local level.

“Our dynamics may be different than Byron, Minnesota, or Rochester, Minnesota,” Willert said. “It’s certainly different than Brainerd’s or Bemidji’s or International Falls’. It’s hard to use a one-size-fits-all scenario with a state as diverse in temperatures and climate as Minnesota is. We’ll live with it, but we appreciate when these kinds of decisions are left for the local districts to make.”

Willert said Monday’s school board meeting will go on as planned, but there will be no extra-curricular activities that day. He’s also waiting to hear about what will transpire Tuesday and whether or not schools will lose another day because of the temperatures and windchills.

Dayton’s education commissioner, Brenda Cassellius, didn’t rule out the possibility of another day of canceled classes Tuesday. However, she said it was likely that decision would be left to individual school administrators.

Willert said Marshall Schools will treat the missed day of school Monday as any other in regard to making it up.

“Our practice is, if you miss a day you make up a day, so I would say we will be making this day up.”

Dayton’s office said he made the decision Friday in order to give school administrators, teachers and parents time to plan for the closures. The state Department of Education was coordinating with school districts to make sure the public is adequately notified about the school closings.

Minnesota law gives the governor the power to “authorize the commissioner of education to alter school schedules, curtail school activities or order school closed,” according to the language of the statute. The order also applies to public charter schools, but not private schools. However, Cassellius pointed out that many Minnesota private schools coordinate student transportation with public districts, and that school buses won’t be running Monday.