Snow days pile up: Fargo-Moorhead had several school closings but nothing compared to other areas

Students leave Washington Elementary after school Nov. 28, 2018, in north Fargo. Forum file photo
Students leave Washington Elementary after school Nov. 28, 2018, in north Fargo. Forum file photo

FARGO — Metro area schools had more cancellations this winter than in recent years, but districts elsewhere in the region had it far worse.

Fargo schools closed because of weather three days this school year, compared with once last school year. Before 2017-18, the last time the district canceled school was in 2014, a district spokesperson said.

Moorhead schools missed four days and had seven late starts due to weather. West Fargo also had four cancellations — a number that district spokeswoman Heather Leas said is unprecedented.

But that's nothing compared to some districts, like Chatfield Public Schools in southern Minnesota, that canceled up to 10 school days, said Deb Henton, president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

“It has been a very challenging winter for us to continue to safely transport students to school given the conditions,” Henton said.

West Fargo and Fargo schools are among the 23 districts submitting applications to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to forgive missed days. Of those districts, Wyndmere is seeking forgiveness for the most missed days: five.

Dale Wetzel, DPI spokesman, said there have not been this many applications since the 2013-14 school year, and between 2014 and 2018, only two districts requested waivers for missed days.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum will ultimately have to sign off on the applications. Meanwhile, snow-day forgiveness bills are moving through the Minnesota Legislature, and Gov. Tim Walz has already expressed his support.

“Because of the extraordinary number of snow and cold days this winter, Governor Walz supports legislation to waive the minimum instructional days for the 2018-19 school year,” the governor’s office said in a message to The Forum. “The Governor has assured school districts that they will not be penalized for keeping their students safe, and he is ready to work with the legislature to make that happen.”

Minnesota and North Dakota both mandate 165 days of instruction before the end of the school year. Districts report missed days to state officials at the end of each year, but the states don’t track the number of missed days throughout the year.

In Warren, a northern Minnesota town that saw 75.5 inches of snow, students missed school seven times and had four late starts.

“I’ve worked here for eight years, and I’ve never seen it like this," said Denelle Narlock of the Warren-Alvarado-Oslo School District, adding that last year Warren had two snow days.

About 30 miles southwest of Warren, Grand Forks received 84.5 inches of snow. Classes there were canceled five times, and schools at the nearby Air Force base had six cancellations.

Most districts schedule possible make-up days each school year in case they're needed. Those days are being used to ensure mandates are met. Another tool to combat lost instruction time is e-learning, which some districts have implemented.

As schools in the Fargo-Moorhead area have tried to make up snow days, the weather hasn't always cooperated.

West Fargo students were going to lose a day from spring break and have class instead, except Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.

“We had a snowstorm on a school make-up day,” Leas said with a laugh. “We ended up canceling school anyways.”