Sweet Sixteen: Some districts excuse tournament absences, others won't

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2014 

With 19 days missed due to winter weather, Scott County Superintendent Patricia Putty said she's not going to cancel a half-day of school Friday for a basketball game.

Putty realizes students might want to attend the 1:30 p.m. game in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet Sixteen Tournament. She has even encouraged cheerleaders and band members to attend Scott County High School's game against Johnson Central in Lexington's Rupp Arena. But Putty is among the school leaders who won't cancel classes even though their teams are competing in the tournament because their district has already racked up a large number of snow days this school year.

"I'm thrilled to death that our kids are playing in the state tournament and I don't want to appear as if I'm not being supportive of the team," Putty said. "If it had been last winter and we had only missed three (days), I probably would have said OK we are going to release the half-day."

As it is, Putty said, Scott County School officials will be increasing its school day this year for students by 20 minutes to makeup the snow days.

"I can't very well release our kids and then turn around and be adding minutes to our school day. As unfortunate as that might be, first and foremost its academics in Scott County," she said. "I've explained to the coaches and they understand."

Scott County students can have up to six excused absences when accompanied by a note from parents. Putty said parents should use their discretion in checking children out of school to attend the game.

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said the decision to call off school to attend a state tournament game is up to local districts, School districts are aware that each student must receive at least 1,062 hours of instruction during a school year, she said. Members of the General Assembly in Frankfort have been trying this week to iron out legislation that would provide relief in the school calendar for districts hit hard by winter weather.

Owensboro High School had a game during the school day on Wednesday and did not cancel classes.

"We had already missed so many days because of snow," said Anita Burnette, principal of Owensboro High School.

Still, Burnette said the school would excuse absences if Owensboro high students have a game ticket.

Christian County officials also held classes and excused the absences of Hopkinsville High students who held a ticket for games during the school day on Wednesday and Friday, spokeswoman Heather Lancaster said.

Clay County, which has missed 29 days this year due to weather conditions, did not cancel classes Thursday.

Though Clay County was scheduled to play an 8 p.m. Thursday game, "If we hadn't missed so many days for the bad weather," school might have been cancelled at some point during the tournament, said Jeff Woods, director of pupil personnel. "We're having school because we've missed so many days this year."

However, other schools did cancel classes to attend the Sweet Sixteen, including Trinity High School, a private Catholic High School in Jefferson County, an hour and a half away from Lexington. Trinity played Wednesday and is scheduled to play Friday during the school day.

"We have cancelled scheduled holidays and added days to the end of the school year to make up the missed time due to weather and tournament attendance," Robert J. Mullen, president of Trinity High School said in a statement.

Wayne County Superintendent John Dalton said earlier this week that his district cancelled school for one day on Thursday, noting that school attendance would have been terrible otherwise.

"We have unashamedly called off school for Thursday because we play in the noon game... It's a wonderful accomplishment for our kids to be in the state tournament," Dalton said.

Dalton said the district is focused on academics, but "you have kids that perform at that level and you have thousands of people in the community that want to support them."

"We just really think its better for school spirit and community morale... It's only one day of school," he said. "If we go (to school) the first week of June, so be it."

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

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