Snow day? Yes, but no makeup day

FAIRMONT — So far for the 2017-2018 school year, there have been three snow days, one early dismissal and one two-hour late start at Fairmont Area Schools.

This is maybe to be expected, since this is Minnesota, but many may wonder how missing several days of school affects the rest of the school year.

“In the past, people used to think you had to be in school so many days but that law changed about four years ago,” explained Fairmont Area Superintendent Joe Brown. “You now need to be in school so many hours,”

Fairmont Area has more hours than required by state law so students do not need to make up the time they have lost from snow days.

Under current state law, students in grade 7-12 are required to receive at least 1,020 hours of instruction. Grades 1-6 are required to receive at least 935 hours, and all-day kindergarten must receive at least 850 hours. A school board’s annual calendar must include at least 165 days of instruction.

At Fairmont Area, since there is all-day kindergarten, all students are in school for about six hours per day, not including lunch. With 174 days in the current school year, that equals 1,044 hours of instruction.

Kindergarteners at Fairmont schools receive an extra 32 days of school while grades 1-6 are getting an extra 18 days. Grades 7-12 get an extra four days of school above the required state minimum.

“I don’t want to be minimum school and just get by,” Brown said. “I want our kids to get full exposure.”

While students could have several more snow days and still receive the required number of hours, teachers also are affected by snow days.

“Teachers have to make up the time because teachers are under contract for so many days,” Brown explained. “Teachers are employed for 184 contract days and there are 174 student contact days.”

When there are snow days, teachers need to make up the hours from those days. Brown said the district is flexible when it comes to how teachers make up those hours.

“We encourage teachers to constantly get better and we want them to do staff development and there’s a lot of staff development that’s available online,” he said. “If teachers can document that they’ve put in eight hours of additional staff development training on their own time, and turn it in, we’ll count it as a snow make up day for them.”

Brown went on to say that the ultimate goal is to have all teachers not have to come back in June to make up time, but they do need to fulfill their contract.

When it comes to deciding whether to close school because of weather conditions, the decision is made by Brown, with a recommendation from the bus company, Minnesota Motor Bus.

Brown said that early on Tuesday morning, he got a phone call from the superintendent of Martin County West, Allison Schmidt, asking what he was thinking about deciding regarding the weather. Brown also talked to Blue Earth Area Superintendent Evan Gough. While Brown said Schmidt and Gough physically go out and drive the roads to test conditions, Fairmont’s bus company does that for Fairmont Area.

Brown said that on some days, such as Tuesday, the bus company believed it could get the kids to school in the morning but was not sure it could safely get them home after school.

“My number one priority is that kids and our staff get to school and to home safely,” Brown said.