Accounting for snow days
The Waupaca School District has canceled four school days due to inclement weather so far this school year.
First, I would like to address the factors involved in making a decision to close schools.
Then I will address the factors involved in a decision to make up those days at the end of the year.
The closing of school is very seldom an easy decision because it affects the safety of children either to and from school if school is in session, or at home if school is canceled and arrangements for child care need to be made.
Please keep in mind parents have the option of keeping their children home from school should they believe the weather conditions merit such action and school is not canceled.
The absence will be considered “excused” if the parent writes a note indicating weather as the reason their child was absent from school.
Late starts and early dismissals due to inclement weather are particularly difficult for child care arrangements and are seldom used.
In addition, a late start call assumes conditions are going to be better within two hours of the decision.
If conditions don’t improve and the entire day is subsequently canceled, parents are really left in a quandary over child care provisions for the remainder of the day.
Early dismissals create similar problems for parents.
This year, icy road conditions presented particular problems for us and were one of the main reasons for closing schools. While buses are usually better than personal vehicles in snowy conditions, the opposite is true in icy conditions.
Road conditions are checked by the district’s transportation supervisor through communication with the county road crews as well as personal experience driving the difficult areas. Factors involved include the timing of the snow removal and salting/sanding efforts throughout the 60+ square miles of the District.
While some roads may appear passable and safe, others throughout the District remain snow covered and slippery. Each event is different due to the timing of the snowfall and the temperature changes throughout the day or evening.
State statutes relative to days and hours of instruction contain two requirements needing to be met in order for schools to be in compliance.
The first requirement is school must be scheduled for at least 180 days annually. The length of the “school day” is not defined in statute, but a “school day” is defined as a day in which school is actually taught.
The general interpretation is any day in which students report to school counts as one of the 180. Contrary to popular belief, the students do not have to stay through the lunch hour in order for the “day” to be counted. Additionally, days canceled by order of the school district administrator due to inclement weather combined with days parent-teacher conferences are held may not exceed a total of five days during the school term.
The Waupaca School District calendar includes 180 school days. Included in this total are two days of parent-teacher conferences. This allows for three inclement weather days not required to be made up if students meet the “hours” requirement as described next.
School districts must annually schedule a minimum of 437 hours of direct pupil instruction in kindergarten, at least 1,050 hours in grades 1 though 6 and at least 1,137 hours in grades 7-12.
Our school day schedule is structured to allow for more hours than required on an annual basis but not enough to cover the entire four days lost this year.
The question often asked by the general public relates to building snow days into the calendar. Without changing the length of the school day, this solution would have the net effect of lengthening the school year even if there were no snow days called.
By not building in snow days, the school year is lengthened only by the number of days/hours approved by the school board.
The school board will make a decision on how many of the four days will be made up by students and staff at their regular April 9 meeting. Hopefully, the threat of additional snow days will be over by then.
The board will not look at this question only in terms of meeting the minimum standard under the statutes. Lost instructional time in these days of more rigorous standards and high stakes testing is always a concern.
It is our intent to provide productive education time during every school day.
Dr. David Poeschl is the Waupaca School District administrator.