Clark County

Nearly 40 percent of school districts ask state for disaster days

FRANKFORT -- Nearly 40 percent of Kentucky’s school districts have asked the state to let them waive as many as 10 makeup days for time lost during January’s ice storm and last September’s winds from Hurricane Ike.

The state Department of Education released a document Tuesday at the request of the Herald-Leader. The document showed that 66 of the state’s 174 school districts are seeking the disaster-day waivers under a bill approved in this year’s legislative session.

The state already has approved half of the requests, with most districts "getting what they asked for," department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said.The state is still considering 33 of the requests, Gross said.

"For those that are not yet completed, in general, we are awaiting additional supporting information from the districts in order to finalize the request," she said. "Staff is working around the clock on these requests. It’s a very complex process."

Local school boards that wanted waivers had to submit an amended school calendar to the state Department of Education by May 1.

The calendar had to show that all makeup days included in the district’s original school year calendar had been used before other days are waived.Each school district builds into its calendar a number of makeup days based on the average number missed during the past five years.

The state has 10 days to approve or deny a request for any so-called "disaster days."

Most of the school districts asking for the waivers did not seek the maximum 10 days and are in Western and Eastern Kentucky. Fayette and Jefferson counties did not ask for any.

The state so far has granted two school districts -- Breckinridge County and Lee County -- the maximum. It has allowed Russell County to extend 33 instructional days by 35 minutes each.

The bill allowed a school district that missed part of a school day for an emergency to make up only the time missed -- not the entire day.

David Baird, associate director of the Kentucky School Boards Association, said some districts in the state lost more than 20 days to the storms.

"We at the KSBA have strongly encouraged and advocated for school districts to make up missed days," Baird said.

"In the perfect world, they would do that. But school districts really were walloped by these storms and need help in working hard on their calendars."Under current law, Kentucky schools are required to be in session for 177 instructional days, compared with a national average of 180 days.

Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, who sponsored the legislation for the missed school days, said the number of school districts requesting waivers did not surprise him.

"I hate to see students lose any school day, but what happened to our state was highly unusual," he said. "We had two national disaster declarations in the same school year."