Snow, ice disrupt school calendars

Posted: February 09, 2014

The region's school superintendents are confronting decisions that could determine whether your children show up late for summer camp in the Poconos, or if that spring-break family trip to Clearwater falls off the table.

With this week's snow and ice storms and massive power outages coming atop an already-eventful winter, districts are facing the problem of how to make up for lost time to meet the state minimum requirement of 180 classroom days. It's giving administrators nasty cases of agita.

Larry Mussoline, superintendent of the Downingtown School District, called this week the worst in his 35-year career.

"We can't win," said Jennifer Blake, spokeswoman for the Great Valley School District.

Schools in the western and northern suburbs have been hit hardest, racking up from five to eight weather days. Several already posted their new calendars online, while others say they will make decisions by next week.

The range of solutions - adding time to the end of the school year; eliminating some or all of spring break or holidays, such as Feb. 17, Presidents Day; or adding classes on what were scheduled as teacher in-service days - all have their consequences.

After the punishing winter of 1993-94, Great Valley scheduled makeup days over spring break - and weathered "holy heck" from parents, in the words of one official. So. this time around, it is opting to tack on days at the end of the year, provided more weather days don't pile up.

That means the last day of school has been pushed back from June 11 to June 20. Ouch!

As Blake suggested, not everyone was happy with the announcement, posted on the district's Facebook page.

"Yes, we must save spring break," one writer said.

"No, we must save summer break!" countered another.

"Take it from long weekends and primaries please," a third said.

"We've been up at 4 in the morning every day and then at night, in calls, and making major decisions about school," Downingtown's Mussoline said.

With six snow days to make up in that district, students will have to come to school Feb. 14 (forget about those Valentines, kids) and May 23 (forget about a four-day Memorial Day weekend break), and four days at the end of the year.

Vacations aren't the only issues when schedules get blown up. Students lose valuable instructional time, especially with PSSA exams looming in March, Mussoline said. The math/reading and writing tests have been extended a week to give schools a chance to catch up, a state Department of Education spokesman said.

Most districts build a few snow days into their school calendars. If they are not used, students get sprung early in June. The Council Rock School District in Bucks County built in five this year - and had used them by Tuesday.

Still, with schools closed Friday - with three being used as shelters for people still without power - the district undoubtedly will have to reconfigure the schedule. According to the district website, an April in-service day is the first to go. The next options would be spring-break days and, finally, June.

Under a prearranged system, the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District is taking a balanced approach to making up its eight missed days. Three are scheduled over spring break; four at the end of the school year; and Presidents Day will not be a holiday.

Tory Stagnaro of Berwyn, whose three children attend Beaumont Elementary School, where she is president of the Home and School Association, said she heard from spring-break vacationers that "people are still going to go. They're not going to cancel their trips because we have school."

On the other hand, the extra days in June will interfere with fourth-grade graduation, held on the last full day of school, and possibly summer camps and trips.

Last year, when two snow days were added in June, one fourth grader missed graduation because the family was flying to Ireland.

"When you have a trip like that planned," Stagnaro said, "you have to go."



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