Our Opinion: Put safety first when deciding on school closings

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, January 28, 2014

School closures because of snow and extreme cold are surely becoming a hassle for parents and school districts, but the cautious approach is best when it comes to students’ safety.

Austin and most area schools were closed again Monday after blowing snow caused poor travel conditions and then extreme cold returned to the area.

While we’ve heard some people balk at area schools frequently closing or starting two-hours late in January for the cold weather, the schools have been right to be cautious. When wind chills dip to 30 to 50 below, the National Weather Service warns frostbite can occur on unexposed skin in a matter of minutes. Do people really want their children waiting at a bus stop in such conditions?

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While children celebrate snow days, we understand it can be a hassle for parents. A snow day means many adults will have to find a sitter, bring their children to work, take a day off, or call on grandpa and grandma.

Now, school districts are starting to talk about the need to add extra days. Superintendent David Krenz said Austin won’t have to make up snow days yet. The district builds three snow days into teacher contracts before requiring teachers to make up any lost time. The district is far above state-mandated classroom time, however. Minnesota requires at least 935 hours of elementary class time and 1,020 hours of middle and high school class time.

We hope no more snow/cold days will be necessary, and schools can continue as scheduled. Heck, we even hope for an early spring — knock on wood. But, let’s be realistic: It’s only Jan. 28, there’s an awful lot of winter left, and let’s not forget about that May snowstorm last year. This is Minnesota; winter weather is unavoidable, so it’s unrealistic to expect to get through the next few months without a winter storm or another cold stretch.

We agree completely with what Hayfield Superintendent Ron Evjen told us last week: “Our primary focus is the safety of kids. I’d rather err on the side of caution any day. That’s our philosophy.”

It’s better to make up a day or two in June than risk children’s safety in January.