Waiver sought for snow day

BAR HARBOR — Classes at Mount Desert Island High School have been cancelled eight days this year because of weather and a power outage, but school officials want to make up only seven of those days.

The high school board Monday night authorized Superintendent Howard Colter to request a one-day waiver of the state’s requirement that schools be in session 175 days a year. Colter sent that request to Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin on Tuesday.

High school Principal Matt Haney strongly urged the school board to seek the waiver.

The school lost three days due to a power outage in early November. Two of those days were made up by holding classes Dec. 22 and 23. The other schools in the MDI Regional School System did not miss those three days, so they do not need to seek a makeup waiver.

Snowstorms caused the high school to lose five days of classes in January and February. To make up one of those days, classes were held March 9, which was supposed to be set aside for parent-teacher conferences. Classes also have been scheduled for Saturday, May 16, and the school year has been extended by three days, June 18, 19 and 20.

Haney said the school has done all it can to make up the lost days without resorting to options that he described as “untenable.” Those options include extending the school year into the week of June 22, eliminating a portion of April vacation week and holding classes on Saturday, April 11.

He said in a memo to the board that, based on last year’s experience, “There is a significant diminishing of the educational return on school days in the last week of June.”

In addition, he said, area employers depend on students to start summer jobs that week, and some students either attend or work as counselors at summer camps.

As for shortening April vacation week, Haney noted that some staff and students already have made travel plans for that week, including one school group. Also, he said, “There are activities planned during vacation that would have to be cancelled or drastically reduced if school was in session.”

He said the plan for making up lost days already includes holding classes on two Saturdays.

“It is our firm belief that adding a third would have a profound impact on the educational climate of the remainder of the school year,” Haney said. “We had experience with this several years ago when we had two Saturdays as makeup days.”

Colter told board members they shouldn’t assume that Desjardin, the education commissioner, will automatically grant the request to waive a makeup day. He said a question to consider is, “Why would the commissioner want to approve this when there are other schools that, based on what I’ve read, have been out more days than we have, and they are making it up?”

He questioned whether the commissioner would want to “open that door.”

Jaci Holmes, the Department of Education’s federal/state legislative liaison, told the Islander two weeks ago that the department likely would grant waivers only if schools had exhausted all reasonable options for making up lost days.

“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. “We look at the waiver as sort of the last step.”

Several high school board members said Monday night that if the education commissioner does not grant the one-day waiver or if the school loses another day of classes because of weather this year, they would favor making it up on a Saturday rather than at the end of the year.

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]
Dick Broom

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