State firm on snow waiver

BAR HARBOR — If students in the local schools have to miss many more days of class this winter, the superintendent could request a waiver of the state requirement that schools be in session 175 days a year.

But the Maine Department of Education (DOE) would grant a waiver only if the schools had exhausted all reasonable options for making up the lost days, according to Jaci Holmes, the DOE’s federal/state legislative liaison.

“We would look at what other remedies they have tried … such as using [professional] development days or Saturdays … and what amount of time they have left,” she said Tuesday. “We look at the waiver as sort of the last step.”

Members of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) board Monday night discussed options for making up more snow days should that become necessary. It did on Wednesday when more than eight inches of snow closed schools once again.

Most of the MDIRSS schools are currently two days behind. To make up those days, Superintendent Howard Colter has proposed that school be in session for half a day on both Monday, March 9, and Friday, March 27. Parent-teacher conferences are currently scheduled for all day March 9. March 27 is on the calendar as a professional development day for teachers.

If more make-up days than those are needed, Colter said, the options include holding classes on Saturdays, shortening the April vacation week and adding days to the end of the school year.

Board member John Brown said he would favor seeking a waiver of the 175-day requirement.

“It’s been somewhat of an unusual winter, and we’re not done yet,” he said. “Pushing this out into another week in June or even an extra day in April, those are not high quality education days.”

Board member Ingrid Kachmar noted that a waiver would mean the loss of valuable instruction time.

“We can’t just say, ‘Oh, it snowed, so we don’t need to worry about making it up,’” she said.

The individual school committees, not the MDIRSS board, set the school calendars and can revise them.

Colter expressed frustration that there is no policy for making up snow days that aren’t already accounted for in the schools’ calendars. He said a plan that is “articulate and clear to everybody” would allow administrators and board members to “get past the drama and confusion that we’re all facing right now.”

Referring to the amount of time being spent on the question of snow make-up days, Colter said, “It just blows my mind. There must be better things to talk about, [such as] children and education.”

He also suggested that the schools consider eliminating either the February or April vacation week in future years.

“There’s not a requirement to have two weeks off in the spring,” he said. “After you’ve had that break at the holidays in December and January, why not gain a week in the whole calendar year by maybe going with one of those two [weeks off] and not both.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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