Snow days could mean longer school year

by Samuel Speciale, Education reporter
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While it’s been a mild winter with few cancellations around the state and none in Kanawha County, recent policy changes regarding school calendars have made it costly for school boards to call a snow day.

This is the first full school year since the state Legislature and the Department of Education made significant policy changes that require each county to provide 180 days of in-school instruction. Because recent winters have caused a record amount of missed school, a larger window of allowable instruction days was created to ensure that standard is met.

With exactly 180 days scheduled for the 2014-2015 school year, calling off for snow would mean Kanawha County school officials would have to push back the last day of school on May 27 to make up for the missed time.

That hasn’t always been the case though.

Last year, Kanawha County and other neighboring school systems were closed for most of January because of the Elk River chemical leak and inclement weather, which caused many to worry students would fall behind.

Some school systems around the state, like Calhoun County, attempted to reclaim spring break to make up for missed days, while others rescheduled class. Kanawha County school officials, however, chose not to alter the schedule, which is something they won’t be able to do again this year.

While school is often set to end during the last weeks of May or the first week of June, each county school board now has the authority to schedule makeup days well into June, should cancellations cause the county to miss the required amount of instructional days. Officials also can shorten or eliminate spring break to make up for missed school.

The school calendar policy changes were prompted by many school systems failing to meet the required 180 instructional days in past years. Only 10 school systems met that mark during the 2010-2011 school year. None did in 2009-2010.

Like all school systems, Kanawha County now has several out-of-calendar days in June that can be used for makeup days. Restrictions in the new policy, however, do not allow school to be scheduled past June 30.

Kanawha County had not called off any days this year until today. Board member Pete Thaw said Monday likely would have been the county’s first snow day had students not already been off for a teacher continuing education and faculty senate day.

In order to meet instructional requirements, Kanawha County school officials also have vowed to no longer call two-hour delays.

In December, school board members agreed to do away with delays as a way to save money and prevent using out-of-calendar days to make up missed instructional time.

Superintendent Ron Duerring said delays are just as costly as a snow day when it comes to instructional time, and a delay turned cancellation can cost the county hundreds of thousands.

That policy has met criticism, but Kanawha County is in good standing as it enters the last month of winter with no delays or cancellations.

This time last year, because of early dismissals, delays and closings, the school system had missed more than 15 instructional days.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.