Severe weather causes schools to make up days

Winter weather has continued to plague schools around the area with slippery conditions and dangerously low temperatures, and as a result, many schools will be looking at when to make up days toward the end of the year.

Alpena Public Schools has had seven snow days so far, which puts the district in the position to make up one day sometime before the end of the year.

“It’s only March, so we’re not sure if there will be any additional snow days this month, but as of right now we only have to make up one,” Superintendent Brent Holcomb said. “Right now we have school scheduled to end on a Wednesday, so if we had to add a day we are in a position where it wouldn’t be too difficult to do so.”

Area superintendents have met and discussed the policy for school on days where the temperature is below 20 degrees, and agreed that when those temperatures are sustained, school should be closed.

“We talk with each other to see what the weather is like in each district and share thoughts on whether to close school or not,” Holcomb said. “We also work closely with the county road commission to learn what driving conditions are and make sure we aren’t putting our students’ safety at risk if we don’t call off school.”

Atlanta Community Schools Superintendent Don Haskin said it is at six snow days currently, which makes any additional days makeup days.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Haskin said. “The weather can always change, but right now we’re doing all right.”

Haskin said in mid-April the school will look at what to do about makeup days if necessary.

“We keep a close eye on the radars and temperatures and work together with other districts to make a decision on snow days,” Haskin said. “Student safety is priority one. When we do decide to close school, we put notices on the radio stations, TV stations, our Facebook page and I send out an email to the staff and school board.”

Hillman Community Schools Superintendent Jason McElrath said the district has seven snow days year, and he’s hoping to get through March without adding any more.

“This has been a unique year as far as weather and temperatures are concerned,” McElrath said. “Our school year ends on a Friday, so to make up an extra day we will have to look at our options and see what will work best.”

McElrath said he works with Transportation Supervisor Joe LaFleche and the county road commission to assess travel safety and road conditions on questionable days.

“We have to look at student safety first,” McElrath said. “On days there might not be school, I wake up early and check for temperatures and advisories and warnings, along with factoring in the wind chill and amount of snow. Earlier on in the winter the state sent out a memo encouraging districts to use negative 20 degrees as a guide temperature for snow days, and other superintendents follow the same guide.”

Rogers City Area Schools has used seven days and six hours of its state-allowed six days and 12 hours, Superintendent Katy Xenakis-Makowski said. She’ll be meeting with union leadership for district staff to plan how to make up the time. There’s no plan at this point to alter or cancel any scheduled days off from school.

While Xenakis-Makowski agrees with the State Board of Education’s stance on making up missed days with full days, adding days at the end of the year has its own drawbacks. Not only does a plan to make up missed days have to work for a majority of people, both staff and students, the district has to have 75 percent of students in attendance for a day to count as a full one.

“Hopefully, we can construct a plan to meet our state requirements and educate our students to the best of their abilities,” she said.

Posen Consolidated Schools had used up an extra day over the state limit, Superintendent John Palmer said. The district has a day built into its calendar to make up the time without adding to the end of the school year.

“We’ve already got days set for that starting April 21,” he said. “We actually can start making that up. That’s a day that we had scheduled off, and we’ll just plan on going.”

Palmer also agrees with the state’s stance on making up overages with full days. It’s hard enough to get in all the instruction students need for Common Core within the state-mandated number of instruction hours. Plus, adding time at the end of the day can be a “bookkeeping nightmare.”

Onaway Area Community Schools Superintendent Rod Fullerton said the district has used its seventh day, and he’ll be meeting with the school board’s calendar committee to discuss how to make it up. Like Posen, the district has makeup days in its schedule, and said he hopes to have an announcement for parents and students by March 31, the start of spring break.

At Alcona Community Schools, Superintendent Shawn Thornton said she didn’t know the exact number of days the school has been closed this winter due to bad weather.

“We do know we need to make up for three days,” she said.

Presently, the last day of school is set for June 4, according to the district calendar. But before the school board of education can officially lengthen the academic year, everyone has to get through March and April first.

In other words, more school days could be canceled due to weather, Thornton said. So the board will hold off on making an official decision until April.

According to state law, the district must provide 170 days of instruction to students, so school planners padded the calendar with six additional days for possible closures.

Thornton said she doesn’t anticipate the additional three days of instruction will be expensive.

“There are some hidden costs, but on those days when school was canceled we didn’t run school buses,” she said.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.