Snow days decision pending at Fairmont Area Schools

FAIRMONT — Fairmont School Board members will soon have to make a decision about whether to forgive snow days or have students and teachers make them up.

Minnesota was blasted by seemingly relentless snow and cold in February, with accumulation records set across the state. Schools everywhere told students and staff to stay at home for safety reasons.

About a week ago, Gov. Tim Walz signed the “Snow Day Relief Act,” which gives school boards the choice to count snow days as if they were time spent instructing students. The law applies only to the current school year.

Superintendent Joe Brown told the school board Tuesday that it will have to report to the state the number of missed days, if any, that Fairmont Area will claim under the law. He pointed out that the matter is not as simple as it seems.

Brown said school districts that choose to forgive snow days still must pay their staff for those days. In addition, they must pay contracts, such as with bus companies and food service, even though there was no school.

On the flip side, Brown said Fairmont Area would receive state aid as if it had taught students those days.

The board took no action on the matter Tuesday.

In other business, the board received a report on the “World’s Best Workforce” from Jodi Kristenson, reading interventionist and literacy coordinator. World’s Best Workforce is a state law requiring schools to adopt a long-term, comprehensive strategic plan to support and improve teaching and learning.

Kristenson discussed goals and results, such as the goal of having 94 percent of kindergarten students be in progress or proficient on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. She noted that the average at Fairmont Area is 97.2 percent.

The school likewise exceeded a goal for third-grade students who met their fall-to-spring growth target on the aReading FASTBridge assessment in 2017-18. And the district achieved a 94 percent graduate rate in 2017-18, exceeding the 90 percent goal.

Discussing the “North Star Report,” a component of the World’s Best Workforce requirement, Kristenson displayed graphs showing that Fairmont Area exceeds state averages for things such as math achievement, math and reading progress, attendance and graduation.

The report spurred a question from board member Michael Edman, who wondered why Fairmont is seeing reading achievement lower than the state average when the district exceeds the state attendance average.

On the question of attendance, Superintendent Joe Brown said factors involved could be high attendance by special education students or English-as-a-second-language students, which would not translate into higher reading achievement.

Board member Dan Brookens noted that the district has been implementing a new reading curriculum, which may be a factor. Kristenson said the district is seeing slow and steady improvement in its reading scores.

Edman also questioned the value of comparing Fairmont to the state average, suggesting it would be better to compare the district to its “peers,” namely those districts more commonly used for comparison locally, such as those in the same athletic conference. Kristenson said she is not sure she can access results for other schools.

In other business, the board:

o Approved a change to the student medication policy, prohibiting medical cannabis from being administered on school property. Students who require medical cannabis during the school day will have to make arrangements with providers for off-site treatment.