Arctic forecast drives Governor to close schools

/ 3 January 2014 / eunice

John Croman, KARE 11 News, January 3, 2014 – The specter of biting, arctic cold in the forecast led Gov. Mark Dayton to order schools closed statewide Monday.

Dayton tapped a rarely used statute that allows the governor to order the education commissioner to change school calendars or close them altogether.

“This is an historic weather event we’re having, and it’s across the entire state, which is very unique,” said Minn. Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius, referring to the five-day outlook predicting temperatures to plunge below minus 20 degrees and wind chills below minus 50 degrees.

“This is the kind of weather where in 5 minutes, 10 minutes kids can get significant frost bite and the governor and I wanted to ensure that all kids are safe,” Cassellius explained.

She said the threat of long waits for children at bus stops in the polar air is enhanced by the fact that most of the school buses in the state have been parked for two weeks during the holiday break, a time that was marked by long stretches of subzero weather.

Cassellius said it was better to make the decision on Friday, so parents will have more time to prepare for the child care. Traditionally, most school districts make the call to cancel schools the night before or during the early morning hours, in response to snow events.

Following Carlson’s Precedent

Dayton’s move is not without precedent. During his eight years in office Gov. Arne Carlson closed the schools three times for severe cold; Jan. 18, 1994, Feb. 2, 1996 and Jan. 16, 1997.

“I made the decision after driving around St. Paul and seeing children shivering at bus stops, lacking the right footwear and clothing for that extreme cold,” Carlson told KARE Friday.

The first time he cancelled classes, in 1994, the temperature in the Twin Cities reached minus 30 degrees.

“I took some heat from one of the school superintendents, but then I found out that he was in southern California.”

Carlson recalls that his daughter Jessica was 8-years-old at the time, and her classmates were awestruck by the notion that her father had the power to close schools.

“They said, ‘Can he close them again tomorrow?’” Carlson laughed.

He said he still stands behind those decisions and believes Dayton is acting with the best interest of children in mind in this situation.

Debated by parents

The debate over Dayton’s decision played out on Facebook and Twitter throughout Friday, with most people siding with the governor’s decision to err on the side of safety.

But some used social media as a forum to criticize today’s children as not being as hardy as their predecessors were.

“Wear proper clothing if you’re going to live here or move south,” one person posted on KARE 11’s Facebook page.

“I’m tired of this country of whiners!”

Others called for the governor to go ahead and cancel all business activity as well, something he lacks the authority to do.

But most Tweeters and posters agreed with the sentiments of Mary Cecconi, executive director of Parents United for Public Schools.

“Parents inconvenience themselves every day for their children,” Cecconi told KARE.

“What more important reason, than the safety of their children?”

She concedes her group typically pushed for more academic rigor and higher instructional standards. But Cecconi asserted this cold swing is different from most.

“The potential of tragedy on Monday is just too much. Why not minimize the risk? I would hope the employers of this state will be as flexible as possible, given they’ve got two days to plan for this situation.”