Education

Two ‘snow days’ already, lots of winter ahead. What does it mean for make-up days?

Students boarded a Fayette County school bus on Spangler Drive in Lexington Feb. 2, 2007. Fayette County schools were in session that day despite a morning snowfall.
Students boarded a Fayette County school bus on Spangler Drive in Lexington Feb. 2, 2007. Fayette County schools were in session that day despite a morning snowfall. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

With winter break having just ended, Fayette County Public Schools has quickly canceled two days because of weather — and Lexington has yet to see its first significant snowfall.

District officials announced Sunday night that classes would be canceled Monday based on a forecast of a wintry mix for the morning commute. Icy, wet conditions Monday morning caused multiple wrecks in Fayette County and around the Bluegrass. Classes also were canceled Friday because of extremely low temperatures and a wind chill advisory, district officials said. Most adjoining districts also closed.

Fayette County’s school district now has to make changes to the school calendar. Officials received some questions and minor social media criticism, but mostly praise for the cancellations.

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the decision to cancel Monday was about safety.

“This morning there were multiple accidents. Roads were incredibly icy. Rural roads were especially treacherous,” and a loss of power for Kentucky Utilities impacted Paul Laurence Dunbar High School as the day was beginning, Deffendall said. “When roads are icy and treacherous, it is the best decision to not go to school.”

On Friday, the decision was made because of the wind chill. “Kids can get frostbite on their skin within 15 minutes,” she said.

“People generally understand that the decisions were made in the interest of student safety and have been very supportive. For every criticism there are people praising the decision.”

She said the district had gotten only a few calls with questions.

Most responses on the district’s Facebook page praised the decision to close both days, although a few people opposed.

Where does that leave the school calendar?

No announcements have been made about weather make-up days, Deffendall said.

According to the district’s website, state law requires school districts to make up every day missed so the school year contains at least 170 days of teaching and learning, and 1,062 instructional hours. There is no exception unless the district misses 20 consecutive days or a change is approved by the governor or General Assembly. The district calendars are updated after the district confirms each makeup date.

On the current calendar, March 16, May 29 through May 31, June 1, June 4 through 8, and June 11 through 14 are all possible weather makeup days.

On wintry days, a team of district employees begins assessing conditions as early as 2:30 a.m., the website said. District leaders, in consultation with meteorologists and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Streets and Roads Division, consider roads, precipitation, outdoor temperatures, wind chills, current conditions, and the weather forecast. The goal is to make a decision by 5 a.m. and begin mass notifications at 5:30 a.m. But as happened Sunday night, the decision can be made the previous evening.

Whenever travel is deemed unsafe, the district can cancel school, delay the start of school, or dismiss school early.

Why was school canceled and not delayed for a few hours Monday?

Some forecasts were showing ice until 11 a.m., so the delay wouldn’t buy enough time, Deffendall said.

Why was the decision made Sunday night?

Because the forecasts were getting worse, school officials decided to try to give families more notice, she said.

“Please remember that conditions vary throughout the community,” the district website said. “One end of the county might be clear while other areas of town remain treacherous. With student safety as the guiding priority, FCPS makes decisions based on what's best for the whole community. The district also respects the right of each family to make different choices based on what they feel is best for their children’s safety.”

Fayette County is not among the districts that allow students to learn from home on ‘snow days,’ avoiding having to make up as many as 10 bad weather days.

In 2016, the school board voted to apply for the state’s non-traditional instruction or NTI program. But after studying the issue, officials had concerns for the 4,600 students who were considered special education students or English language learners who would need additional assistance on those days.

There are no plans for Fayette County to reconsider that program, Deffendall said Monday..

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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