District 281 Supt.: Weather closing decisions are never easy

Aldo Sicoli
Aldo Sicoli

Due to the extremely cold weather in January, Robbinsdale Area Schools along with most metro school districts closed school for five days.

School cancellations are never easy. They create challenges for families, staff and students. We do not take such decisions lightly and we consider a variety of options. Ultimately, the safety of our students is of the utmost importance.

Minnesota requires schools to have a specific number of days of instruction and a specific number of hours of instruction during the school year. We approved a school calendar with a total of 170 school days. With five days lost, we currently meet the required number of days if there are no future cancellations.

At this time we are still evaluating our options to possibly make up some of the missed instructional time. We value instructional time and take the loss of such time seriously. We will communicate any decisions on this as soon as possible.

As you can imagine, the cancellations have raised some questions about how we make our decision, timing of the decision and alternative options to closing.

When we are making a decision to close schools, we review the most up-to-date weather forecast from the National Weather Service. The persistent frigid cold we experienced this month is unprecedented.

We take into consideration the actual temperature as well as the wind chill factor. We are also in conversation with other districts.

We have a number of students who walk to school. High school students may walk if they live within one mile of their school. Additionally, our students may wait at their bus stop for several minutes.

Frost bite is a serious concern if students are not dressed warmly and are outside for long periods of time when the wind chill dips to extremely low categories. Hospitals have reported that the number of frost bite cases in Minnesota has increased this year.

As soon as a decision is made to close school we immediately share the information with families in a variety of ways. We post the most updated information on our website, on social media and share with major news outlets. Because weather patterns may change, we consider updated weather information on a day-to-day basis.

Robbinsdale Area Schools rarely runs a two-hour late start because we have found over the years this option typically creates additional challenges.

Because of our seven-community district, the staggered start times of our schools and the way we tier our transportation, we have found that this option does not work for our district. Additionally, this type of delay disrupts parent schedules and creates confusion of bus stop times for students.

We understand that any decision to close school has an impact on parents, students, staff and our community. I am meeting with superintendents from around the metro to examine the recent school closings and determine how we might handle these closings in the future.

Although the weather and school closings have been frustrating, Robbinsdale Area Schools is enthusiastically moving forward with learning. The best part of my job is observing students learning in our classrooms. Our students and staff are excited to be in school.

We appreciate all the support from the community during this difficult winter weather.

Aldo Sicoli is the Superintendent of Robbinsdale Area Schools