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E. Ky. schools feeling strain of long break

HAZARD — Schools that haven't been in session since before the holiday break are feeling the strain of lost instruction days and worry over children who need food and services schools provide.

Perry County schools, some of which are without water service because of weather and technical problems, have canceled school through Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday are looking iffy, officials said.

The district's students haven't been in the classroom since Dec. 18. Still, it's not all that unusual, officials said.

"Missing eight days is bad, but we've missed many more days in the past," said Perry Superintendent John Paul Amis.

Besides shortening the window of instruction before state testing in April, the weather hinders help schools provide to poor students.

"I think just even the kids that normally need to be in school because of the breakfast and lunch program are not being served," said Nadine Vannarsdall, principal of Dennis C. Wooton Elementary School in Perry County.

Family resource centers, which do remain open to provide emergency help, have "backpack programs" that provide food for needy children to take home over the weekend — but only when school is in session. Up to a quarter of Perry's 4,200 students might use that program, estimated Family Resource Center Director Harvey Colwell.

Many Eastern Kentucky districts, Perry included, are used to missing school days because of mountainous roads that school buses can't navigate. Extra days are built into the calendar before school starts.

Letcher County canceled its Presidents Day holiday and is considering shortening spring break, said Kenneth Cornett, director of pupil personnel.

So far, Pike County schools will need to arrange for only three extra days of instruction, despite having missed eight this winter, because the district adds an extra 17 minutes of instruction time into each school day, said Assistant Superintendent Roger Johnson. Extra days will be added on to the end of the school year or will involve rearranging teachers' required professional development days.

"Right now I'm worried about what kind of bad weather we're going to have between now and April," Johnson said.