St. Paul district cancels two school days before winter break, citing stress of pandemic

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Nov. 30—St. Paul Public Schools is calling off two days of classes before Christmas to give students and staff a full two-week break in the middle of a difficult school year.

Superintendent Joe Gothard said Monday the extra time off will "give everybody that true breath that they need."

The coronavirus pandemic, including efforts by the district to track and isolate the close contacts of infected people, has taken a toll on the staff, Gothard said.

He said 300 teachers recently missed work on a single day for various reasons. Schools found substitutes for fewer than half of them, forcing many teachers to miss their prep times to cover for colleagues.

The school board voted unanimously Monday night to approve the recommended changes in this school year's calendar. Classes on Dec. 21 will be canceled, and Dec. 20 will become a no-student work day for staff, who may do some professional development from home.

Finally, April 15, which was a scheduled professional development day, instead will become a "digital learning day." That means students will learn from home — much like they did on Election Day — and that time will count toward the state's statutory minimums for instruction.

The district said the changes "acknowledge the stress and challenges both families and staff are facing due to the pandemic. The district wants to give students, school staff and their families a longer break. We also encourage everyone to use this time to get vaccinated or get your booster shot."

The district also plans to survey families and staff about taking more digital learning days during the second semester.

The St. Louis Park district made a similar move last week, canceling classes on Dec. 20-21 "for the mental and physical health and wellbeing of all." Rochester is giving students four days off throughout the school year.

Shakopee called off two days of school before Thanksgiving as rising cases of COVID-19 pushing more classrooms into distance learning.

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