What a winter this has been. Upwards of six feet of snow with no end in sight.
This year’s numerous storms have especially impacted local schools, where five snow days already have been logged. Two of those days wisely were made up before the Christmas holiday break. Plans now call for the next three to be made up on Saturdays spread over the remainder of the school year.
With plenty of inclement weather still to come this winter, additional steps may be needed.
State Representative Brian Hubbell, (D-Bar Harbor) has introduced legislation that would allow a further option to scheduling full make-up days. LD 129 would permit schools the option of making up the lost days by tacking an extra hour onto the end of the school day over a longer period of time. The bill would allow up to 25 such extended days. Each full week of extended days would compensate for a single lost day.
Schools could use the extensions only to make up days missed due to weather or emergencies.
When it comes to instruction, Mount Desert Island Regional School System Superintendent Howard Colter believes any school district should use every day it has to the fullest. Major structural changes in school year future calendars may be needed to allow closing on time in June.
He advocates revisiting the wisdom of taking a full week off in February. The traditional basketball tournaments still could be held without having to shut down entire schools during the day, he suggests.
Tightening up the schedule around other vacations and holidays also could provide more flexibility in achieving the final release date.
Another avenue perhaps worth exploring would give schools credit for snow days provided students continued to learn at home via their computers, or complete online lessons. Several states, Colter notes, now allow “blizzard day” credits for such technological innovation.
Officials in some school district are urging state education officials in Augusta to declare a one-time “no school” emergency, waiving the requirements that all Maine schools be open for a total of 180 days each year with a minimum of 175 days of instruction.
Last Tuesday, when faced with making another tough call on whether or not to shutter MDI schools, Colter’s office issued the following message:
“The amount of snow in the forecast isn’t necessarily the problem, but almost all of the road crews on the island report travel far worse than normal winter travel, and with temperatures that will be falling throughout the day, a delay or early release really doesn’t help. Additionally, all Hancock County schools are also canceling for the day.
“With losing so many snow days, it is always tempting to push the limits, but when it comes to safety, we need to focus on the day at hand. For any of you that need to drive today, please be extra careful.”
Deciding whether to close school is never easy. Scrambling to make up for lost time is equally difficult. The more options available to officials, the better to ensure that our youth continue to receive sufficient classroom time.