Duluth schoolchildren might be trading a day off for a late start sometime next winter.

Stung by having to close schools eight times during the 2013-14 academic year, the district is adding what Superintendent Bill Gronseth calls “another tool in the toolbox to address the ever-changing weather of Duluth.”

When the wintry weather returns this year - as it surely will - school administrators will have the option of opening school two hours later.

The new policy, announced in an email to parents on Wednesday, came after district officials sought input from parents, administrators and teachers, Gronseth said.

A two-hour late start, already in use by neighboring districts, got the most positive feedback, he said. Early closings are not part of the new policy, Gronseth added.

“Parents weren’t as supportive of having an early release,” he said. “Of course if we were in an emergency situation we’d have to make those tough calls, but not as a general practice.”

Last winter’s brutal conditions caused school officials to re-evaluate their policies, Gronseth said. Of the eight days when schools were closed, at least two could have been salvaged with a late start, he noted.

The Duluth schools hadn’t had that many snow or cold days since sometime in the 1970s, Gronseth said. In a typical school year, there are no more than four canceled days.

The school district made up close to 3½ days of the lost time in 2013-14 by adding two full days and 12 minutes to its school days, Gronseth said.

For the coming year, two days have been added along with time to the high school day, he said.

Gronseth doesn’t want to use the delay as a “time buffer” to give himself more time to decide whether to close the schools, he said.

“I’m really hoping that we don’t end up in that situation, that we only use the two-hour-late start when that’s really the intent,” Gronseth said.

The new policy will be publicized in back-to-school materials, with additional reminders as winter weather approaches, he said.

The goal is to preserve school days, if possible, even if it means starting later than usual.

“The hope is that we give students as much educational time as we can, and the loss of two hours is better than the loss of eight,” Gronseth said.

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