Schools to reopen on Wednesday in Mpls, St. Paulby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts will be back in session Wednesday. Both districts took Monday and Tuesday off in the aftermath of the Twin Cities' fifth-largest snowstorm ever.
In St. Paul, Tuesday wasn't just spent getting schools ready for the reopening -- officials also found themselves defending their decision to take that second day off.
For some parents, the days off for students have made for scheduling problems. Santiago Fernandez-Gimenez missed an important meeting at the University of Minneosta Tuesday to be home with his two kids on St. Paul's west side. Both children attend St. Paul city schools.
"It is very inconvenient, that's for sure, in terms of work that I've missed," Fernandez-Gimenez said. "I remember having snow days and just loving it. The kids have been just fine with it."
Hernandez-Gimenez said he's tried all day to get his seven- and ten-year-old children to go outside, calling them "pretty stircrazy." And after a weekend of stay-inside snowfall followed by two straight snow days, why wouldn't they be?
But was today's second snow day necessary?
"I've been out and about with the kids - we ran some errands -- and, I don't know, the roads don't appear that bad," Hernandez-Gimenez said. "So, I think they probably could have toughed it out, but I also understand it's easy for me to say."
"IT ONLY TAKES ONE STUDENT FATALITY"
The person who does have to make that call in St. Paul, Superintendent Valeria Silva, is confident she made the right call, difficult as it was.
"It takes only one student fatality to be in a situation in which we regret, and I wasn't willing to put our students at risk in that way," she said.
Silva, like her counterparts in Minneapolis, said she wasn't sure kids would be completely safe this morning. Silva praised city road crews for clearing the roads, but she said not every resident had yet cleared their sidewalks since the monster storm, and that might have forced kids to walk in the street or on top of snow hills.
Silva also said side-roads are now narrower and buses will have a hard time navigating streets, espcially where cars are parked on both sides. She said she needed one more day -- to let residents clear their walks, to let the city do more of its snow removal, and to even let the district do its last removals to clear school building lots and entrance ways.
"I can't apologize for trying to ensure a student's safety," she said.
Silva's decision, though, became a bit of a controversy when St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman entered the fray and criticized the move, saying another snow day would be an undue burden on parents.
Coleman, who drove buses for two years in college, said he personally toured scores of streets Monday night and was confident they'd be clear enough for buses. He also said the city promised the district they'd have roads cleared in time, and they did -- which is why he was surprised school was still canceled.
"I appreciate the fact that we're all looking out for the best interests of our students, but I think we had an unprecedented level of response to one of the largest snowfalls in the history of the city - and from a streets of St. Paul standpoint, we were ready to go," the mayor said.
This is the first time Coleman has publicly criticized district leadership since Silva became superintendent one year ago Tuesday. They often heap praise on each other when they appear together at events. Both said that this disagreement won't harm their working relationship at all.
In Minneapolis, there was no criticism from Mayor R.T. Rybak for his city's schools, which made the same decision to close. Rybak's spokesman said city staff provided information to help the district make a call, and Rybak was always going to support whatever decision was made.
Craig Vana, an associate superintendent for Minneapolis, said Minneapolis, like St. Paul, also grappled with a huge challenge of street corners, where plows criss-cross and make piles even taller. Big school buses have to navigate and pick students up from those corners.
"It's a challenge to make those turns on good days," Vana said. "Now you can imagine with all those snow drifts, snow blocking the areas, single lanes, they can't even make the turn onto side streets."
Vana said it's up to homeowners to clear those corners -- he knows this because he lives on such a lot -- and he said there was no way enough of those corners would have been cleared by this morning. That would have forced kids to jump over snow hills to get to their bus.
Vana said there's been enough additional clearing, by either city crews or homeowners, since that time to allow for bus runs Wednesday.
- All Things Considered, 12/14/2010, 5:16 p.m.