As of Feb. 13, the Redwood Area School District has opted to close because of inclement weather six times, with an additional six days when school either started late or dismissed early.
While making up all of those days would be challenging to say the least, the local school district’s administration and the Redwood Area Board of Education have been looking at ways to make up what it can.
To that end, the school board held a special meeting Tuesday night, and following the discussion with Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent, the board approved an amendment to the 2018-19 calendar that now includes Feb. 18 (this coming Monday) and May 22 as student contact days.
The school board had amended the calendar previously and then added March 15 as a student contact day. Initially Feb. 18 had been added as a staff only day, but after additional school closings the board decided to alter that date to bring in students.
The board also approved May 23 as a staff work day.
According to Ellingworth, the state requires a minimum number of 165 student contact days during the school year, and Ellingworth said the local school district schedules its student contact days calendar in excess of that each year with 174 days scheduled for 2018-19.
Snow days are built into the calendar each year to allow for inclement weather, and in a “normal” year that is never really an issue. However, there are years like this one when the number of days missed begin to pile up, and then decisions about making up those days have to be made in order to stay at or above the state mandated requirement and to provide the best educational opportunity for students in the district.
After all, said Ellingworth, that is what school is all about – getting students a good education.
Yet, he added, the priority is always about keeping students, staff and bus drivers safe. Decisions regarding a school closure, a late start or an early dismissal come down to school administration, but Ellingworth said that final decision is always made in concert with Thielen Bus Lines which provides the transportation of students for the district.
Ellingworth said Thielen utilizes up-to-date weather equipment and a network of people to make its decisions, adding at times a simple drive out in the country to see what the conditions are like is made to get the best feel for what is happening.
“In a regular year we might miss two or three days,” said Ellingworth, agreeing this is no ordinary year.
The decision to hold school Feb. 18, March 15 and May 22 brings the school district’s student contact days total up to 170 for 2018-19, said Ellingworth, adding there continues to be some room should added school closings be made this year.
Ellingworth said it is never easy to make the decision to close school, adding he recognizes the short window of time when students are in school, with concerns for those students who are enrolled in college level and Advanced Placement courses, as well as those students who are currently working in the community as part of the career mentorship program.
Ellingworth said efforts are in place to ensure decisions regarding late starts or closings are made as soon as is possible, with announcements sent out via the schools alert system.
“Sometimes calls can be made the night before,” said Ellingworth, adding at other times the decision is made later simply because the responsibility of the district to have school whenever it is reasonable.
In addition to discussing the calendar amendment at the special meeting Tuesday, Ellingworth presented to the board a new concept for the district – e-learning.
A number of area schools have implemented a program through which students are able to do school work at home during those days when school is closed, adding the work students do is prepared by their teachers and often includes interaction with that teacher during the day.
Ellingworth said he and the other school administrators, as well as staff members who focus on technology, will be developing a plan that would be presented to the staff and then the school board for approval before it would be put in place.
Ellingworth said an e-learning plan must be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education prior to implementation, adding the school district is limited to using a maximum of five e-learning days during the year.
The school board thought it made sense to move forward with the development of a plan, adding the district has made an investment in technology that would allow students at the upper middle-school and high-school level to take devices home for that very purpose.
While board members agreed the best option is to have students physically in school the e-learning idea is a good second option.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Tony Miller, school board member.
What happens the rest of this winter remains up in the air, and the school district’s leadership is committed to doing what is the best, safest plan for all involved.
Those who have questions are encouraged to contact school administration.