Testing the language of snow days in a wild winter School board debates make up days, e-learning days

By : 
Jordan Gerard


Eight snow days have plagued school districts across Minnesota and the Midwest, allowing them to test the written language governing snow days.

Spring Grove Public Schools Superintendent Rachel Udstuen said the number of snow days the district has had is “unprecedented.”

“Weather is no one’s fault,” she said. “No one thought we’d test the language with eight snow days.”

With previous winters not as hard on the district for snow days, this winter has been a challenge for students, teachers and administration.

Years ago, snow days were usually made at the end of the year, but not considered prime education days.

Now the district builds in three snow days because we live in Minnesota with wild winters. Those days aren’t made up in the future.

Once those three days are used up and if there’s more snow days, students go to school on President’s Day and the first day of spring break (this year, April 17).

If more snow days occur after that and before Easter, those days are made up too. Or are they?

The language in question was part of the master agreement between the district and its staff. It says, “... Additional teacher/student make-up days, if necessary, will be made-up on President’s Day and/or the Thursday before Easter – if this day is scheduled as a non-school day. Any additional days missed after the Thursday before Easter will not be made up.”

But what about days before spring break? The board was divided about what to do for the recent snow days and when to make them up.

The district cannot fall below 165 days of school. If they are close to that, days will be added in June, delaying the end of school.

Gov. Tim Walz announced school districts would not be penalized if they didn’t make up the required days of learning due to weather events.

The board is also considering adding e-learning days after the built in snow days are used. An e-learning day allows students to get assignments online and complete them before going back to school. 

In some districts, students are given a few days more to complete the work if they weren’t able to complete it on the snow day (for those taking care of younger siblings).

However, Udstuen pointed out barriers to this idea. The first was that not all students have internet access at home, so it would be unequal for students and widen the achievement gap instead of closing it.

Another barrier is a student learning a new skill on their own when they could potentially learn it the wrong way. They would have to spend extra time learning it the right way.

Udstuen also mentioned that homework should be practice, not “busywork,” especially if students mastered the skill already. 

Teachers can also come up with creative ideas in the snow for assignments, such as students creating snow sculptures for an art project.

The board took no action on the matter, but decided to schedule a meet and confer session with teachers to see what could be done. Students may potentially have to make up three snow days this year, but it remains to be seen after the meet and confer and recommendation to the board.

Principal’s report

Principal Nancy Gulbranson announced the process for National Honor Society selection has begun. 

Students with a grade-point average (GPA) of 3.3 or higher are eligible for the honor. Students will receive data sheets and information about the society.

If they turn the sheets into faculty advisor, they’ll be added to the list of potential honorees. Tenured staff reviews the data sheets and selects the students.

An informal induction will be held on March 20 and a formal induction will be held March 28.

Gulbranson announced an opportunity for all seniors on March 15. Area seniors and businesses will get connected with each other at an event called “Senior Day,” at Minnesota State College Southeast (formerly known as Southeast Technical College) in Winona.

Seniors will have an opportunity to prepare a cover letter, resume and participate in mock interviews.

This gives businesses an opportunity to help out students and look for future interns or employees.

Students and businesspersons will enjoy a box lunch together.

Finally, the next class of kindergarteners will be getting ready for school with early childhood screening and kindergarten round up on March 22.

Kids three to five years old are eligible for the early childhood screening at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Spring Grove. 

Kids five years old now or turning five by September are eligible for kindergarten round up, where they can meet their teacher, parents can fill out forms, tour the building and have a fun day at school.

Superintendent’s report

Udstuen announced enrollment reached a new number of 359 students. 

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “It makes our work as a board more enjoyable with more kids.”

The total price for the construction project was announced.

A total of $409,088 was spent between the Math Learning Center, district office relocation and gym bathroom remodel.

The Math Learning Center cost came to $92,054, while the combined cost for the office and bathrooms was $317,034.

The budget for the project was set from $250,000 to $300,000, when the school was working with the architects.

While construction was happening, there were a few change orders and replacement of HVAC components, which added onto the cost.

“It was daunting and overwhelming, but kept it in reason,” Udstuen said. “We got a lot done for our dollar.”

Students and staff reacted positively to the new office space. Each grade got tours of the new space.

Personnel report

The board made several hires at the meeting, ranging from musical directors to special education teachers.

Skyler Erickson will return as the choreographer for the high school production of “Anything Goes,” while Mark Schroeder will be the music director for the production.

Kaitlin Bratland was hired as the early childhood special education and K-12 special education teacher, a part time position. She will work 16 hours a week, but Udstuen said that would probably increase due to more referrals coming through.

Bill Fried was hired as the speech coach after English/theatre teacher Megan Miller stepped away from the position due to scheduling conflicts.

Appreciation week, day

Udstuen announced Paraprofessional Recognition Week was March 4-8. She thanked the district’s paraprofessionals for all of the work they do.

“We wouldn’t survive without them,” she said. 

Those people are Susie Jahnke, Lorna Kasten, Toby Leahy, Trisha Myrah, Mona Olson, Kasey Thompson, Lynn Solum and Blaine Storlie.

Udstuen also announced Feb. 27 was Bus Drivers Appreciation Day. Gulbranson and Karen Fried were working on an event to show the district’s appreciation for the Schmidt’s Bus Drivers.

Those drivers include Nancy Messner, David Myrah, Lonnie Tweeten, Mike Wiste, Ken VanMinsel, Gary Friemann and Kathy Myrah.

“We’re very indebted to them,” she said. “They do a good job of delivering our kids safely.”

Closed meeting

The board went into a closed session for a superintendent evaluation. The results of that evaluation will be announced at the March meeting.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Spring Grove School District will be March 18, at 7 p.m., in the Media Center.