Defer to superintendents on when to close schools

Last Monday, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called off school statewide because of forecast severe cold. In this part of the state, the temperature never rose above 10 below and, with a breeze from the west, the wind chill factor was below minus-30.

Dayton’s call was not without precedent. In the 1990s, Gov. Arne Carlson did the same thing. However, except for those two incidents, the governor of Minnesota has not been involved in decisions on closing the schools. That decision has wisely been left up to the local superintendents of schools.

There’s good reason for that. Minnesota is a large state geographically. It can be 40-below at one end of the state and 40 above at the other end on the same day. One part of the state may be hit by a blizzard while another part is enjoying the sunshine.

While we appreciate the governor’s good intentions — no one wants a child to suffer frostbite while walking to school — this is, after all, Minnesota. In San Diego, the temperature rarely gets below 50 or above 80. Here, the temperature spans about 140 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.

Minnesota weather can be severe, and it can change suddenly, creating life-threatening conditions. Live here for a year, and one knows that.

One of the most difficult decisions a superintendent of schools makes is whether to hold school on a given day. The governor made it easy for them last Monday, by calling off classes in advance.

But we would rather the local superintendent make the call. With access to instant radar weather these days, most people have sufficient information to make those decisions, including many parents. Superintendents often tell parents that the parents have final say on whether to send their child to school.

We do see a reason for a governor to call off school—during times of civil unrest or war. Superintendents may not have access to the same information as the state’s leader. But weather is different. Superintendents care just as much about children’s welfare as the governor, and they ought to be trusted to make the call on whether the local district should hold classes or not.