Is it safe to schedule summer vacation? Fayette County school officials say not yet

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMarch 3, 2014 

  • SNOW DAYS

    Fayette County Public Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said it has been more than 20 years since the district had more than 10 snow days. Going back to the 2000-01 school year, the earliest records she had, the most days of school missed in Fayette County were nine in 2002-03, followed by eight in 2008-09. Those were also the years that had the most consecutive snow days, Deffendall said. During 2002-03, a year in which Fayette County suffered a paralyzing ice storm, schools were closed for four consecutive days: Feb. 18 to 21. In 2008-09, school was closed for five consecutive days, Jan. 26 to 30.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK?

    We asked: Do you favor extending the school year potentially two weeks, or canceling spring break and extending the school year a week (assuming no more snow days)?

    You said:

    • "Seat time only matters if they are not watching TV the last two weeks of school." Debra Sorensen Thacker

    • "After testing schedule, which I think is fixed in time, what are they going to do in the classroom for remaining "extended" time? Teachers feel free to chime in. I'd rather my kids be at home working on e-classes than watching documentaries. Isn't the lesson plan designed to end at testing?" Scott Clark

    • "It's a possibility every year... Why would you get NON refundable tickets." Micah Gastineau

    • "Some of us already had Non refundable tickets for summer vacation that has already been affected!!!! Plans have been affected for many. I am all for shortening spring break. Compromise." Pamela Lydon Wood

    • "How about extending the school day 30 minutes per day?" Jarrod Slone

    • "Teachers work too much as it is, forget about the missed days." Squeaks Breier

Spring break is safe in Fayette County, even though Tuesday was the 13th snow day of the year.

"The district has never considered using spring break for winter make-up days," district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Monday. Fayette County's spring break is scheduled for March 31 through April 4.

Spring break appears to be safe, but it's not clear when families can begin finalizing summer vacation plans in June. The first two weeks could be off limits.

Last month, when the district had missed 10 days (it had been 20 years since Fayette County Public Schools hit that mark), officials had said the last day of school would be June 6. Deffendall has previously said the week of June 9 to 13 has been set aside for make-up days if needed. On Monday, she said the district was "waiting to see what the next few weeks of winter bring" before making an announcement about make-up days.

When it comes to those who have bought tickets for summer vacations, Deffendall said the district "will be as flexible as possible with our families in light of the unusual number of days we've missed this school year for winter weather."

"The reason we adopt our school calendar more than a year in advance is to give families time to make plans," she said Monday. "When we identify days at the end of the school year as 'possible weather make-up days,' that means school may still be in session at that time."

Still, the district has taken steps to plug some of the holes created by snow days.

The school board voted last month to have students make up two days that had been scheduled as days off: Feb. 17, which was Presidents Day, and March 21. And Fayette County, like several other districts, is waiting to see whether the state will give them some flexibility.

Kentucky's House Education Committee is expected to take up House Bill 410, which would waive as many as 10 instructional days for school districts that have missed days this winter. That's because Kentucky school districts are required to provide the equivalent of at least 177 six-hour instructional days — 1,062 hours — during the 2013-14 school year.

Someone posted a question on the Fayette schools' Facebook page, asking about the potential effect of House Bill 410, sponsored by state Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty.

"Let's wait and see what the General Assembly does," district officials replied to the post.

Stacy's bill says that "notwithstanding any other statute or administrative regulation to the contrary," the state education commissioner shall approve the request.

Stacy's bill would require instructional staff to make up days by participating in instructional activities or professional development, or by being assigned additional work.

Some Kentucky school districts have decided to go to school during spring break. Some have decided to hold classes on Memorial Day. Others are waiting to see what happens in the next few weeks.

As of Feb. 17, at least 17 Kentucky districts had missed 20 or more days to snow and cold. Several more had missed 19 days at that time, according to data provided Monday by the Kentucky Department of Education. Department spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez cautioned Monday that those numbers were estimates.

Rodriguez said department officials were reviewing HB 410. State education officials said previously that Commissioner Terry Holliday had plans to ask lawmakers to file legislation that would allow him to grant as many as 10 disaster days to school districts that have missed and made up 20 days as a result of adverse weather.

The House Education committee was scheduled to take up HB 410 on Tuesday, but officials postponed that meeting until next week.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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