The Richmond Register

Local News

March 3, 2014

Schools weigh options as snow days mount

MADISON COUNTY — With proposed state legislation looking at waiving required instructional days, or granting emergency authority to remain open on election day, schools across the state are working to figure out just what the remainder of the school year will look like. Some districts have  reported missing more than 20 days of school.

As of Monday, Berea Independent, Madison County and Model Laboratory schools are not eliminating spring break days, will not be open primary election day and are hoping to graduate students in the same window of time as originally planned, district officials said.

But as temperatures are forecast to remain below freezing Tuesday morning, more days missed is not unlikely, said MCS spokesperson Erin Stewart.

“At this point, we are still in that limbo mode,” she said, as it has been the district’s practice to wait until the April school board meeting to approve the final calendar.

“This usually gets us beyond the major predictable weather,” she added.

Having missed 13 days so far, the district announced last week that student will attend school March 21, a scheduled professional development day.

Students in all three districts attended school Feb. 17, the President’s Day holiday.

Madison County Clerk Kenny Barger told the Register Tuesday that 11 of the county’s 17 polling stations are schools, and a decision to keep school open on election day could “cripple the county.”

Superintendent Elmer Thomas agreed Thursday and said he “would not pursue that option even if it (legislation) passed.”

If weather were to worsen, however, primary election day (May 20) and Memorial Day (May 26) are the only open days left in the school year the district could consider if Spring Break were to remain intact, Stewart said. The original calendar would have ended before Memorial Day.

“We really try not to touch Spring Break, it’s such an important week for many students and families,” Stewart said. Aside from it being a break, many students are preparing for baseball, softball and archery tournaments scheduled that week as well as several educational trips.

“Kids work hard to go on those trips. They may not have the opportunity for these experiences during school days,” she said.

Districts are required to conduct graduation ceremonies after the last day of school, which is scheduled June 3 for MCS, she said. During February’s school board meeting, Thomas reported that an extended year could cause problems with the ceremony location.

Each year, Madison Southern and Madison Central’s high school graduation ceremonies are conducted in Eastern Kentucky University’s Alumni Coliseum, and "we typically fill the coliseum to the top every year," he said.

June 3 is the last day the district could graduate students in the coliseum because the Special Olympics of Kentucky State Summer Games are scheduled there June 4-8, and are immediately followed by a scheduled renovation of the gym floor.

If need be, both high school graduations may be scheduled the same day at the coliseum, Stewart said. Or, like some districts, ceremonies may be conducted in school gymnasiums, and graduates are given only a certain number of tickets for family and friends to attend.

After working with principals, the district may add 15 minutes to the end of each school day, a move that could potentially make up one to two days.

Administrators will continue to work on the calendar for now and should know more by the end of the week, said Stewart. “We have to get real flexible and creative.”

Berea Independent Schools have missed a total of 11 snow days, but typically average two to three a year, said Superintendent Mike Hogg.

He said the district is still on track for a June 5 ending day and June 6 graduation ceremony.

Students also will attend school  March 21, a scheduled professional development day, but with no plans to touch spring break (March 31 to April 4).

“There are a lot of ways to attack your calendar shortcomings,” Hogg said.

State law requires students to attend school a minimum of 170, 6-hour school days and teachers are contracted to work 187, he said. However, Berea’s calendar is set at 177 instruction days, at 6 hours and 25 minutes (elementary) and 6 hours and 20 minutes (middle/high) each, which gives them a cushion, the superintendent said.

The district tries to “never go that deep into June” because “the quality of instruction” can be low during those last days of school with students missing, he said.

Schools losing students to prescheduled summer camps and other activities is a concern expressed in all three districts.

With all of the snow days, said Hogg, “it’s very difficult to get instructional momentum. That’s the biggest impact on our school.”

To maintain the tradition of graduating on Friday, the June 6 graduation at the Berea College Seabury Center, would be bumped up to June 13, if necessary, Hogg said. “We’re ready for Old Man Winter to head on out the door.”

Model Laboratory School missed two and a half days in January, but make-up days were already worked into the calendar, said Director James Dantic.

The school missed a total of two days in February, one of which was covered by President’s Day and another with a professional development day scheduled in April, he said.

Having missed Monday, Model will need to make up one day, so far.

Dantic said the school already is looking at extending the school day by 20 minutes, divided equally amongst the courses, for about three weeks.

Model plans to “do everything we can” to maintain the scheduled graduation ceremony on May 23 at the EKU Center for the Arts, he said.

Model also schedules each year with 177 instructional days, each at a minimum of 6 hours and 5 minutes, he said. Teachers would be required to satisfy their 187-day contract with work days after graduation.

Extending the school year also can affect teachers who earn their master’s degrees during the summer months, he pointed out.

Today (Tuesday) is scheduled as the day the ACT college entrance exam is administered to all students across Kentucky, he said.The exam also is the college- and career-readiness component of the state’s accountability system Unbridled Learning.

If the test is not administered by 9 a.m., he said, it must be mailed back to ACT and students must take the exam on March 18. This could be a problem if Model was to be on a two-hour delay Tuesday or missed school altogether.

If a student cannot take the exam on the March 18 makeup day, the student’s score counts against the school’s score, he said.

As districts across the state are facing the same problem with inclement weather, he said, “certainly, an accommodation could be made for practically the entire state.”

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

 

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