The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 25, 2014

Snow days will impact school calendars

By Jessica Farrish
Register-Herald Reporter

— Friday was “snow day No. 9” in Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Wyoming counties.

For those who are counting snow days — superintendents, teachers, bus drivers and parents — Friday marked the first snow day this academic year that exceeded the eight days most county school officials had built into the calendar as make-up days for lost instruction time.

Several administrators around the region explained that snow days aren’t about giving teachers extra vacation days but rather about protecting student and employee safety.

“There’s no superintendent that wants to have school closed, but safety is an incredible factor,” said Greenbrier County Schools Superintendent Sallie Dalton. “In Greenbrier County, we have 72 bus runs, and two-thirds of the roads are secondary roads.”

Greenbrier school buses alone, when the routes are totaled, travel the distance between Lewisburg to San Francisco and back to St. Louis on a daily basis while transporting students to and from county schools, reported Dalton.

“We cover a lot of territory,” she said. “Safety is a priority, always.”

Wyoming Schools Assistant Superintendent Deidre Cline said that in her county, the majority of the children rely on public transportation — county school buses — to get them to and from school safely.

This can present a safety concern to those waiting at outdoor bus stops when polar vortex temperatures invade the region, she said.

“The weather we’ve been having has been extremely unusual,” she said. “It’s not just been uncomfortable, it’s been dangerous.

“If you see those little kids standing in those hollow roads, you’ll understand,” added Cline. “We run a lot of buses, and student safety has been our primary concern.”

County superintendents said plans are in place this year to deal with the lost instructional days.

Summers County students will have a shortened spring break, according to  Superintendent Vickie Hinerman.

Hinerman said March 31 and April 1 will be regular school days instead of spring break, as previously scheduled.

“Their spring break will be shortened to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of that week,” she said.

Hinerman added that Summers students’ last day of school will still be May 28, in accordance with state guidelines.

Greenbrier County schools have added instructional minutes per day in order to compensate for snow days — thanks to the foresight of board members who enacted the policy around 40 years ago, said Dalton.

Greenbrier students have 2,000 to 7,000 annual instructional minutes past the instructional minutes the state requires each academic year, she said.

“They added time into the instructional day to help compensate for where we’ve missed days to snow,” said Dalton. “What we’ve done is extended our school day just by a little bit beyond what’s required.

“So that might just be 15 minutes a day, which doesn’t seem like much, but when you add that up over the course of the year, you see what happens.

“We don’t have to come back in the middle of the school year and start adding time.”

Fayette County Schools Food Services Director David Seay said the school calendar this year doesn’t offer options past using up eight days that are built into the calendar as possible make-up days.

Seay also assists the superintendent in developing the academic calendar.

“We can’t do anything other than try to hold school whenever we can,” he said. “There are two or three instructional support enhancement days in February and April and June, and those days can be converted to instructional days.

“It’s just a decision that could be made,” he said, adding that board members and the superintendent would officially decide.

Next academic year, however, Seay explained, schools will have to provide 180 instructional days, regardless of the number of snow days.

“We’re looking forward to next year’s calendar and the impact it’s going to have on the students,” said Seay. We feel like it’s a good thing for them in making sure they get all their 180 days of instruction.”

Dalton advised that each county school board will hold two public meetings for community input prior to passing a school calendar for next year, under state law.

A spokesman for Raleigh County Schools was not available.