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Canceled classes can leave a conundrum; School year has seen higher number of weather-related cancellations

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Bethany Wesley

BEMIDJI — No, there won’t likely be school in July this summer, but local schoolchildren should get used to the idea of additional class time this year.

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“We know we’ll have to do something to adjust the schedule, we just don’t know how much of an adjustment will have to take place,” Jim Hess, superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools, said Tuesday.

While school is back in session today, Tuesday marked the fifth day of canceled classes this school year, which when added to three late starts and one early dismissal equates to the ninth day of weather-related schedule changes this winter.

“It’s just something that we have to face each day,” Hess said.

This year has had, by far, the most weather-related school cancellations in recent years:

2012-13: Two cancellations and six late starts.

2011-12: Two late starts.

2010-11: One late start.

2009-10: None.

2008-09: One cancellation and five late starts.

When asked if parents have been supportive of the district’s decisions, Hess said most are understanding.

“As with every decision, there are people on either side of the solution,” he said. “I think, for the most part, people have been very supportive of the fact we are making these decisions to safeguard the welfare of their children.”

That said, the cancellations do come with a price. Hess said the district will have to look at adjusting the calendar to provide adequate classroom time for students this year.

“We’ll need to look at the schedule and see what it’s going to take to shore up the amount of time needed to adequately prepare students for the (state- and federally mandated) tests,” Hess said, noting most testing occurs in April. “We’ll need to do whatever we can prior to then to see to it our kids are not at a disadvantage.”

Could that mean extending previously planned half-days to full school days? This was the first year Bemidji Area Schools scheduled half-days of class, providing half-days for staff development. Half-days has already been held — one in October and one earlier this month — but others are scheduled for Feb. 12 and March 12.

“Everything is on the table right now,” Hess said. “We had a lengthy discussion about just that this morning.”

Charter schools

Generally, Bemidji’s three public charter schools — TrekNorth, Schoolcraft and Voyageurs — follow the same decisions made by Bemidji Area Schools, since the district is required to provide the transportation for charter school students as well.

Though rare, Schoolcraft Learning Community will make the decision to close on its own. Schoolcraft holds class out at the French camp at Concordia Language Villages. And because its campus is more spread out among multiple buildings and students are generally outdoors more often, Scott Anderson, the director of the school, said he will occasionally choose to cancel classes even if Bemidji has not, which he did once last school year.

This year, he said, he decided early Sunday evening to not hold classes Monday even though Bemidji Area Schools had not yet made its decision, but as it turned out, the district came to that same conclusion later that night.

The end of the year can provide a few difficulties for Schoolcraft in that the K-8 school must move out of their facilities in very early June to make the space available for regular activities and programming offered at Concordia Language Villages.

When that happens, Anderson said, Schoolcraft makes due, but it isn’t always ideal. In the past, they’ve held some activity days at Bemidji State University, using the pool and rock-climbing wall, or they might spend the day at Diamond Point Park.

Further complicating matters, he said, is that the charter school is not able to rent out space at the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area. The club, which operates in a portion of what used to be the old Bemidji High School, purchased its facilities and site from Bemidji Area Schools for $1, according to the 2004 purchase agreement. A point in that agreement stipulates that the club may not allow its facilities to be used by “a school in competition with the District.”

“We can survive one day, maybe two at BSU and Diamond Point, but five days ... no,” Anderson said. “That’s kind of the situation we’re in, when we can’t go the Boys & Girls Club … during the day. We’re kind of limited.”

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