Running out of “snow days” is currently a factor even in states used to such conditions — where only massive snow amounts stop classes or school buses due to armies of snow-removal forces.
Wisconsin’s legislature, for example, is considering changing the legal requirement from “days” of instruction to “hours” per school year because its systems have had to call off classes too often due to extreme cold. No child, or adult, should have to “tough out” 35 degrees below zero at the bus stops ... and it has been that bad in the “frozen North” this year where youngsters waiting outside at the bus stop in zero-degree darkness — an unheard-of thought locally — is somewhat to be expected.
Nonetheless, ready-or-not for lousy weather, no schools have been prepared for this season and there really is no standardized approach as to a response when too many days are missed. For example, local systems get four “snow days” that don’t have to be made up in any school year. So far, just in the 2014 portion of the classroom calendar, they’ve already had to call for eight. The deficit in instruction must be made up.
Perhaps systems err on the side of caution in calling off classes, but that is as it should be given the safety of children is the controlling factor. However, keep in mind that in these parts schools have been known to get shut down by factors other than snow and ice — a season not yet certainly gone. They’ve also had to call off school in years past when roads became impassable due to the downed forests of trees from wind events.
Each system is free to invent solutions as it sees fit, which is probably as it should be.
However, far more appears to enter into these current individualized responses now actually driven in Georgia by some really, really bad timing. The recent batches of “snow days” hit, and classes were being missed, just as instruction was centered on readying students for the batteries of mandated state tests that determine so much and are increasingly how not only students are awarded grades or scholarships but how entire systems right down into the lower grades are evaluated as to their success.
Then there is what might be called the sociological factor — wishing to avoid creating disruption for families on everything from spring-break plans to summer child-care choices, or immediate concerns for working parents if longer classroom days or Saturday instruction is considered as an option.
Nor are options involving leveraging newer high-tech options available to all. Darlington, for example, has come up with a nifty plan to use “distance learning” — special online instruction and homework — over spring break to make up for lost lessons. That’s no substitute for “face time” with teachers lost but sometimes better than the alternative ... briefly. Darlington is, of course, not only a private school but has something most public systems do not: A fair certainty that all its students, even if home on break many, many miles away, are as close to computers as they would be to their desks if staying on campus.
In most public systems, a third or more of students have no computers or Internet at home and maybe not even access to the ones at the library which might be closed so much of the time due to budget reductions.
Thus one sees the Floyd system void President’s Day as a holiday — with more gyrations to come — and Rome turn half-days on the calendar for parental meetings and similar into full classroom ones. All insist that extending the school year is not an option — consider all the end-of-year events, graduations and such already slotted — and that such as longer days or Saturdays are last resorts.
Actually, one is similarly seeing a bit of trying to make up for lost time — and sales or services provided — in other sectors as well. The mix of responses, given how varied impacts can be, is probably as it should be — a mix of free will, free enterprise and social awareness decisions adapted to locale.
Yet, all this accommodation often seems more geared toward lifestyle or parental reactions than toward instructional purposes. Indeed, if the test timing were not so bad in the current instance, would instruction lost be considered essential to make up? Or would the General Assembly be debating legislation to provide an extra 10 “snow days” this year because of the “emergency?”
While school systems and others “roll with the punches” pretty well in this and other difficult times, it is worth wondering if the arbitrary “four snow days” are sufficient even though, a year from now, zero might well be needed.
There are probably any number of ways to technically, in a rule-bound public venture, build in more time for the unexpected ... but only if it occurs. The outcome of all this wild scrambling in the wake of events is the one thing even the weatherman can’t accurately predict.