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Arctic blast means no Minnesota public school classes Monday

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ST. PAUL -- Frigid temperatures predicted for Monday led Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to cancel public school classes statewide for the first time since 1997, but local officials will make the decision if the cold snap continues into Tuesday.

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“The safety of Minnesota’s school children must be our first priority,” Dayton said Friday. “I have made this decision to protect all our children from the dangerously cold temperatures now forecasted for next Monday. I encourage Minnesotans of all ages to exercise caution in these extreme weather conditions.”

"Our students are real happy," said Annandale Superintendent Steve Niklaus, whose students are among the few in Minnesota to be back in school Friday after a holiday break.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said that the decision came because of a variety of factors that made Monday unique:

-- More than 80 hours of bitterly cold weather is predicted in much of the state.

-- Most schools remain on holiday break, making it more difficult for local schools to make the decision.

-- Because of cold weather during the break, buses could be difficult to run after being parked for two weeks.

Cold temperatures are predicted to cover the entire region, so closing schools statewide makes sense, the commissioner said.

"This is a historic weather pattern," Cassellius said, with wind chills expected to be so cold that students waiting for a bus five or 10 minutes could suffer frostbite.

Cassellius said that weather seldom is the same across Minnesota, so a statewide closure usually is not needed.

"Typically weather patterns are very varied throughout the state," she said. "But we know with this one coming that the entire state will be blanketed with cold temperatures."

The National Weather Service has issued blizzard warnings for northwestern Minnesota tonight into Saturday, with snow, freezing rain and sleet likely for much of the rest of the state. But the big blow comes Monday, when highs of 15 below zero to 20 below zero are expected to combine with windy conditions across much of the state.

Overnight lows early next week could tip as low as 30 below, which Dayton's office reports will be the coldest temperatures in a decade.

The governor's office said the decision to close schools was announced today so school administrators, teachers and parents could make plans. The state Education Department reported it is coordinating with school districts throughout the day to notify the public about Monday’s school closings.

“Children's safety is always our top priority, and as a former superintendent, I know these are never easy calls,” Cassellius said.

Students at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system campuses across the state are to be continuing their winter break next week, so classes are not scheduled. University of Minnesota officials say they are monitoring the weather situation.

Dayton spokesman Bob Hume said that state officials are watching the weather, but as of this afternoon there were no plans to close state offices Monday.

Private schools make their own decisions about closing, but many usually close when public schools close because they use public school transportation systems.

All schools will decide whether to hold activities, but Cassellius said she expects most Monday activities to be canceled.

Dayton's decision only affects public school students. Each district will decide whether teachers and staff should work Monday.

Rochester school officials already had decided to close Monday, but most other schools were waiting to see updated forecasts.

State law gives the governor authority to order schools to close. In modern times, only Gov. Arne Carlson closed schools statewide, and he did it three times.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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