Snow Days Force Tough Choices for Schools

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Facing mandatory class-time requirements and an unrelenting winter, many school leaders say making up for lost time can be as messy as the storms that wiped out their classes. Common options, including erasing spring break or extending the school year, have implications for family vacations, school budgets, summer classes and labor relations.

The easiest sounding option - simply having a shorter school year - isn't so simple, said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators. State leaders, who set the number of instruction days or hours their districts must provide, are less likely to offer leeway given the national push for higher standards, Hunter said.

And though many schools typically have contingency plans, few pay attention until snow days kick those plans into action, forcing families to adjust travel and holiday plans.

Schools in Montgomery County, Md., where 21 inches of snow fell over the weekend, may shorten spring vacation. They've already used their snow days and extended their year.

Eating into spring break is not without its big-time family, legal and social repercussions for us, and we know that," district spokesman Brian Porter said.

Could be worse. In southeastern Missouri, the single-campus Meadow Heights School District, storms have forced classes to be scrapped 14 times this winter.

"It seems like ever since Christmas, we've missed at least two days a week," said Superintendent Duane Schindler. "I think students have reached a point where they've had enough, and parents reached it a lot quicker than the kids."

In Charlotte, N.C., which is among the southern cities hit harder than normal this year, students must now attend class on Memorial Day. The school board has to decide how to make up Tuesday's classes and any other days wiped out before spring comes.

Almost every idea out there, from longer school days to Saturday classes, raises problems.

"You can't make this call without hearing from the parents," Hunter said. "You have to figure out three or four ways of listening and do them all. And no matter what you do, your attendance might not be at the level it would have been otherwise."

Good timing helps. New York City got swamped with snow, but no students missed class because the public schools are on break this week.

Another way to avoid the snow-day hassle: Just don't have them. Some snow belt cities cancel classes infrequently because they are used to clearing streets for safe travel.

"We're a hardy group here," said Andrew Maddigan, spokesman for Buffalo, N.Y., Public Schools. "Where schools may be closed for various reasons if you're south of the Mason-Dixon line, they wouldn't be closed in Buffalo."

In Fargo, N.D., winter weather has forced the school district to lengthen the school year only once in 25 years, said Chuck DeRemer, assistant superintendent for instructional services.

"We're a little fussier," DeRemer said. "Most of our kids live in town, so we can get around. And we really don't have that many storms. I know most people think we're blanketed in snow, but we're not. We just bundle up for the cold and the wind and we're ready to go."


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