Making up snow days a challenge for school districts

dhjalmarson@herald-leader.comFebruary 18, 2010 

Snow, flu and floods have forced Kentucky school districts to cancel so many school days that scheduling make-up days has become a challenge.

Knox County in southeastern Kentucky has missed 27 days, and many other Eastern Kentucky districts are approaching 20 days, the level at which they can ask for a state waiver from making up all of the days.

Fayette County, which has missed six days, announced its revised calendar Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Education is exploring whether to extend the statewide standardized testing window into May.

The planned test window was April 19 to 30, said department spokeswoman Lisa Gross, and the state is negotiating with its private contractor, Measured Progress, to come up with some options that would allow scores to be returned before the start of the next school year.

In normal years, individual districts that miss instruction time because of weather, illness or another emergency may request an extended window, Gross said. But because flu, snow, water outages and other emergencies have affected so many districts this year, the state is considering a statewide extension.

"This winter has been a little unusual," she said.

Gross said it's up to each district to decide how to make up the required instruction time. Some districts have a longer school day, some build "snow days" into their planned calendar, some cut short spring break or other holidays.

Fayette County designated four more weather make-up days to compensate for instructional days recently lost to winter weather.

The district has missed Jan. 7 and 8, and Feb. 9, 10 16 and 17 because of snow. Officials previously had designated two days — Feb. 12 and March 5 — as make-up days for Jan. 7 and 8.

To compensate for days lost last week and this week, classes will be in session May 27 and 28 and June 1 and 2, district officials said Wednesday. That moves the last day of school this year from May 26 to June 2 — unless there's more snow.

If needed, other make-up days are June 3, 4 and 7 to 11. Any days beyond that would require approval by the school board.

All Kentucky districts have missed some days because of snow, with Eastern Kentucky generally being the hardest-hit region.

If a district misses more than 20 instruction days, it may ask for a waiver from the state so it doesn't have to make up any days beyond 20, Gross said.

Many Eastern Kentucky districts are used to missing school days because of mountainous roads that school buses can't navigate, but some schools have canceled for illnesses or other issues. Extra days are built into the calendar before school starts.

"It's a rough time, and it's really rough for our children," said Robin Wright, director of pupil personnel in Knox County.

Even after canceling spring break and other holidays, the district won't finish the year until June 15 or 16, she said.

Knox County canceled school three days in October because of high absences during the flu season, and four days in December because of high water and flooding.

Students should have been back in school Jan. 5, she said, but didn't get back until Jan. 19, and have gone to school only 10 days since then.

Other districts have had similar troubles.

Lawrence County's 20th day without school is Thursday, Superintendent Mike Armstrong said.

"It's just so hard to establish any sort of instructional momentum and learning momentum," Armstrong said.

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