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home : schools : schools July 24, 2016

2/4/2014 6:09:00 PM
Despite cold, no plans for extra days

By David Richards

In his 21 years of education, Byron school district superintendent Jeff Elstad said this school year has been the second coldest, noting the 1995-1996 year as colder.

While snow days are fairly common in Minnesota, closing school because of the bitter cold, isn't as common.

Nonetheless, Minnesota winters can sometimes be abnormal, such as when it snows in early October as it did in 2009 or in May as it did in 2013.

So far this year, as has been a similar trend in most of the state, Byron Public Schools has canceled school twice because of frigid temperatures and wind chills hovering around 40 and 50 below zero. Those days were Jan. 6-7, with the first day ordered by Gov. Mark Dayton.

A week ago Monday could have been another day, but the district held a work day for staff, so students were off already.

"It sounds silly, but it's a difficult decision to make," Elstad said about closing school.

For instance, a week ago today, during another cold front, Elstad made the decision to start two hours late, and said he did so only after looking at seven different weather forecasts.

He also said he makes around 15 to 20 phone calls between 4:30 and 5 a.m. in order to make a decision by 5:30 a.m. so that parents can prepare accordingly.

Those calls include one to the sheriff's department to see what road conditions they're experiencing, with another to transportation director Ben Cockram and still more to other districts to see what they're facing, and others to the Byron Public Schools' administration team.

"We can predict, but we can't know for sure," Elstad said. "The question is 'can we get our kids safely to and from school?' "

Many factors go into making a decision about the snow or the cold, Elstad said, and added that rural districts can be affected differently than urban ones.

For instance, back roads in Byron may still be icy and packed with snow, while most of the City of Rochester can be clear because of the sheer number of plows.

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