Severe Winter Weather Conditions

Each school year schools throughout Minnesota operate schools and school bus routes during periods of severe winter weather conditions.  When road conditions deteriorate after each significant snowfall, school district superintendents and administrators struggle with the question of cancelling school.

The decision to close down a school system the size of the Saint Paul Public Schools is very serious because it impacts tens of thousands of students attending public, nonpublic, and charter schools, and their families. While it is very serious when students miss class time, the winter weather closing of the Saint Paul Public Schools has even greater impact because it requires working parents to take family leave from work to care for students or make emergency daycare arrangements on very short notice.

The decision to operate or cancel schools is based primarily on road conditions.  District Transportation Department staff carefully monitors developing weather conditions and advisories from the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Chanhassen,

Minnesota. On days when the NWS Chanhassen predicts significant snow accumulations and/or sleet conditions for the Saint Paul area, staff from the Transportation Department drive all areas of Saint Paul beginning at about 4:00 am to determine actual road conditions in all parts of the city. Special attention is paid to areas such as Mt. Airy Homes, the Riverview/Concord area, and the Highwood Hills area where steep hills can become impassable.

After determining the actual road conditions within the District, checking on projected weather conditions from NWS Chanhassen, and consulting with our school bus contractors and with Transportation Directors from surrounding school districts, a recommendation is made to operate or to cancel school.

Generally emergency school closings due to severe winter weather conditions only occur when sleet covered road conditions make it too dangerous to operate school buses, or when a level of snowfall has occurred in which it is unlikely that route operations can proceed due to impassible streets. In
both of these situations the weather conditions make it impossible for large numbers of school bus drivers to report to work and would result in many buses becoming stuck, or caught behind other stuck vehicles.

The decision to close the Saint Paul Public Schools rests with the Superintendent of Schools based upon the information developed by, and recommendations of, District staff.  If the decision is made to operate school it is understood that some buses will run slow and, consequently, operate part of their route combinations later than the scheduled time. 

School District staff recommend closing schools based upon weather and overall road conditions. However, on inclement weather days when the decision is made to keep the schools open, the condition of certain roads may not allow safe travel. District Transportation administrative and safety staff may direct buses to avoid specific streets, principally steep hills, until the Saint Paul Public Works Department has sanded and/or plowed. School bus drivers also have the authority to avoid a street if dangerous conditions exist.

The School District does not have the resources to contact parents or guardians if the school
bus is unable to access the designated pickup location. It is the responsibility of the parent or guardian to be alert to weather conditions and to determine how long their children will remain at the corner in the event of a late school bus.  Under these conditions the District is utilizing all available drivers and equipment and it is not possible to send a bus back for missed students.

Parents frequently ask why some school districts in rural or second ring suburban areas choose to operate their school bus routes on a "two hours late" schedule in inclement weather conditions and the Saint Paul Public Schools never chooses to take this action.  Late starts are normally done to allow county highway departments, or the street departments of small towns and suburbs, to clear streets of snowfall accumulations.  This is not a viable alternative for the Saint Paul Schools because the City of Saint Paul has over 850 miles of paved streets which have to be plowed during each snow emergency.   Information on City of Saint Paul snow emergency policies and procedures is available from the link below.