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School districts weigh extending winter break as Duluth is latest to add two days

Multiple districts have added days to their winter break calendars due to COVID safety, staffing shortages, and mental health needs.

APPLE VALLEY, Minn. — For a lot of Minnesota families, winter break is right around the corner and the number of school districts extending that break continues to grow.

On Tuesday, Duluth Public Schools added two days to help address COVID safety, staffing shortages, and mental health needs. 

At a recent school board meeting, the St. Paul Public Schools board voted to extend its upcoming winter break by two days as well, making it a full two weeks off.

"It's just one way that we can support what's taking place in the building and give everybody that true breath that they need," said St. Paul Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard.

St. Cloud, Rochester, Duluth and Osseo are all following suit, as well as Anoka-Hennepin. The latter is the state's largest district that's trying to fill more than 250 positions.

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District (196) is also struggling with a substitute shortage. And to address emerging mental health needs due to COVID, the board was set to vote on adding an extra day to its break, as well.

"Hopefully the one day is kind of a good compromise and will help with the staffing, with the mental health, but also not put families in a position where they're scrambling for a whole week," said the School Board Vice Chair Joel Albright.

The unexpected days off can put parents and care givers in a pinch. District 196 is planning to provide day-care on site that one day. Still, it's a decision several districts call a "balancing act".

"If we do close school on any given day, it has to be made up somewhere else," said Albright. "Which as you said, sounds really good in December, but come June it doesn't sound so good to a lot of people. They want to be done."

At Tuesday's meeting in Apple Valley, the board didn't have enough members to hold a vote, but say they're determined to make a decision. 

The district plans to vote on extending its winter break at the next regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Dec. 13 at 6 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of all Minnesota districts.

Anoka-Hennepin

Minnesota's largest school district announced it's extending the upcoming break to address staffing shortages and "mental health needs for school communities."

The district is modifying the following two days on its calendar:

  • Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021: No school for students, district closed
  • Monday, Jan. 3, 2022: No school for students, staff planning day

Additional dates in February and May could be switched from in-person to asynchronous learning or non-school days, or used for staff planning, according to the district.

Duluth Public Schools

Duluth Public Schools is extending its winter break by two days, citing "COVID safety, staffing shortages, and mental health needs." The district says classes will no longer be held on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021 and Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, and the school and district offices will be closed.

Superintendent John Magas says the district will work to provide food and mental health support, as well as child care, associated with the extension.

The district also plans to offer staff and student booster clinics prior to break, as well as COVID testing for staff and students on Jan. 3.

Rochester Public Schools

Interim superintendent Kent Pekel announced that students won't have school on four Wednesdays (Dec. 8, Feb. 9, April 20 and May 11) so that the district can focus on "staff planning to meet students needs during the pandemic and well-being activities." Feb. 21 was also added as a well-being day for staff and students.

St. Cloud Area School District

The district is making its winter break a full two weeks this year "in an effort to acknowledge the challenges currently facing schools and families."

The winter break calendar now includes Dec. 20-22, with school resuming on Jan. 3, 2022.

The district says Jan. 18, previously scheduled as a staff professional development day, and March 4, a digital learning day, are now in-person instruction days for students.

Saint Paul Public Schools

The district is adding two more days to its winter break schedule to make it a full two weeks. The break will now begin on Dec. 20, with students returning to classes on Jan. 3, 2022.

Monday, Dec. 20 will be a professional development day for school staff and regular day for all other SPPS staff. Tuesday, Dec. 21 will be a non-school day for all students and school staff, but a regular day for the rest of the SPPS staff.