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Longer days in class at Willmar schools due to winter weather

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WILLMAR — Students at Willmar Public Schools will have longer school days starting Monday.

The Willmar School Board voted Monday to add 10 minutes to the elementary sc-hool day and 15 minutes to the day for middle school and high school students.

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The longer days will help the district replace the instruction hours lost to snow days in January.

Schools were closed Jan. 6, 7, 16, 23, 27 and 30 because of dangerous wind chills, ice and blowing snow. The district’s calendar included enough flexibility to make up three of the days by holding school on what would have been days off.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard told the board that he had never asked a board to extend the school day because of snow days, but he’s also never had six snow days in one month before.

Kjergaard said he knew that the longer days were not an idea solution. “It’s the best I could come up with beyond losing spring break,” he said.

Cutting into spring break isn’t an option, he said, because staff is encouraged to take vacations during that time, and the district may not have enough staff and substitutes available to hold class.

There is no school scheduled on Good Friday, but Kjergaard said he didn’t want to do that. The ministerial association was unhappy with a decision several years ago to make up a snow day on Good Friday.

Students in grades 6-12 will have 10 minutes added at the beginning of the day and 5 minutes added at the end of the day. Students in grades K-5 will have 10 minutes at the end of their day.

Those minutes between Monday and the end of the school year will add up to three days of instruction time for secondary students and two days for elementary students.

Kjergaard said some details would still be worked out this week, like how to accommodate pre-school transportation needs. The district may try to work out a memo of understanding with Education Minnesota to extend the days of some teachers. Once the change goes into effect the workday for elementary teachers will end at the same time as the school day.

The state counts instruction hours rather than days to determine the length of a school year. The law requires that districts provide at least 850 hours for all-day kindergarten students, 937 hours for grades 1-6, and 1,020 hours for grades 7-12.

The law requires districts to provide at least 165 days of instruction, except in districts with four-day weeks, but the number of hours is most important.

Since teachers are paid on snow days, they will still owe the district some workdays at the end of the school year Kjergaard said. Those days will be used for staff development workshops.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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