Because of the unusually harsh weather throughout the country many districts are now faced with the challenge of schools making up time lost due to snow days.
The harsh winter has taken a toll on school schedules across broad swaths of the country, particularly in the eastern half, leading officials to cancel spring breaks, extend the academic year—even hold Saturday classes.
“This is going to be a hard year for learning,” said Mike Armstrong, superintendent in rural Lawrence County, Ky., where schools were closed for 34 days this winter as the area was pummeled with 15 more inches of snow than average. Even after canceling this week’s spring break, schools there will stay open nearly a month longer than scheduled.
States and districts differ on how much instruction time is required, though the standard school year is roughly 180 days.
Officials in Maryland, Delaware and Ohio have cleared the way for waivers that would truncate the school year by several days, and a New Jersey district has opted for Saturday sessions. Schools in Michigan and Connecticut have also grappled with the issue.
Though many winters yield a fair share of cancellations, this year stands out for some states. In Georgia, hit by ice storms, officials said a quarter of school districts were given flexibility on weather-related closings—the first time such a large number were affected.
Students need time to master content, but extending the year isn’t ideal, said Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education in Arlington, Va. It isn’t just an issue of holding students’ attention, she said. Schools might lack air-conditioning, many teachers take college courses, and summer camps start.
The disadvantages of adding time in June prompted the Fort Lee, N.J., school district to hold two recent Saturday sessions to make up snow days, said Superintendent Paul Saxton.
In Ohio, where schools get five “calamity” days a year that don’t have to be made up, Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill last week requiring makeup time beyond the five days but allowing waivers in extreme cases. Methods used to make up time can include lengthening the school day by an hour, using online lessons and having students take home extra work. Districts that missed 10 or more days can write off up to four makeup days.
The length of the typical school year has caused consternation, with many politicians and policy makers—including Education Secretary Arne Duncan —suggesting it should be lengthened to help U.S. students better compete in the global economy.
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