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Snow Leaves Schools On Thin Ice

Winter weather has forced Polk County schools to use snow days. Schools may have to make those days up later.

Winter weather has forced Polk County schools to use snow days. Schools may have to make those days up later. Photo by Emily Mentzer.

POLK COUNTY — Yay snow day! Oh wait, we have to make them up?

Maybe, depending on how close districts are to approaching the minimum amount of hours students are required to be in school.

State law requires students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade have 900 hours of instructional time during a school year.

For grades nine through 11, the requirement is 990 hours, while seniors are to attend 966 hours.

Those are minimum requirements, and schools build schedules with time to spare.

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Snow fell all day on Saturday, occasionally mixed with sleet and freezing rain.

Perrydale School District already has exceeded its leeway with the three days it has had to call.

“We have two built into the schedule, so we will need to make one up,” said Perrydale Superintendent Eric Milburn.

Central School District has called three snow days, the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Christmas break. Superintendent Buzz Brazeau said if that is the last of the snow days, the district should meet the hours required.

Snow days

• Perrydale School District has called three snow days, which exceeds the two snow days built into the schedule. Perrydale will make up one day.

• Central School District has called three snow days (the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Christmas break) but should still meet the hours requirement if there are no more snow days. Dallas School District has used five snow days, but has up to nine it could use.

• State law requires 900 hours of instructional time during a school year for students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. For grades nine through 11, the requirement is 990 hours. Seniors are required to attend 966 hours.

Dallas School District has used five snow days, including Monday, but has up to nine it could use.

Not that it wants to, said Steve Martinelli, the district’s director of transportation.

“Even though we have nine, when we get to eight, at some point do we say that is just too many days to miss school?” Martinelli said in a report to the Dallas School Board Monday night. “In the past, we were doing 10 budget reduction days, and we know the affect it has on kids.”

Scheduling make up days could be tricky.

For Central, any makeup days may have to occur after the end of the first semester at the end of the month.

Dallas will look at schedules to see where additional days can be plugged in. Thirty hours of in-service and parent-teacher conference days are already included in instructional hours, so converting those to regular class days won’t help make up hours.

“Yes, it does give our students another contact day, so we might consider that down the road, but it does not change our number of instructional days,” Martinelli said.

Calling a snow day isn’t an exact science, but the goal is clear for all districts: Getting students to school and back home safely, including those who walk, drive themselves or are delivered by their parents.

Brazeau said he’s up at 3 a.m. the day before a possible snow day checking three different weather reports, talking to transportation managers and other school superintendents in the area.

Martinelli’s alarm goes off at the same time. He said he and Dallas’ bus company’s manager spend the wee hours of the morning driving the roads. When he makes a recommendation for a delayed start or canceled day, Martinelli said it’s only safety on his mind.

“A couple things that I don’t ever consider are instructional hours, and I also don’t consider Facebook comments,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what I do I’m wrong — we’re wrong.”

Brazeau can relate. He said one day he called a snow day and the snow didn’t materialize until about 9:30 a.m., well after the school day would have started.

“People were chuckling at me until the snow hit,” he said.

School officials say nothing is certain dealing with fickle weather, so they have to give it their best guess.

“We are trying to make the best decision we can with the information we have, but weather changes,” Brazeau said. “We make mistakes, but not because we are trying to.”

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