This winter has been unprecedented in a lot of ways, most notably, the amount of snow days that we have had to take as a school district. Currently, we have taken six snow days, which brings us to June 25 as the last day of school. Ironically, we have ended the last two years on June 25th so let’s hope at this point that we can make it three years in a row.
Because of the excessive snow days, there has been a lot of discussion about what we can and cannot do in regards to making up the time. Our primary goal is to provide structured and meaningful learning time for our students. Massachusetts is one of a few states that has both a time on learning requirement (900 hours for elementary and 990 hours for secondary) and a school day requirement (180 days). Recently, we received the following information from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:
“With respect to missed school days, the current policy is online. Although the commissioner has authority to reduce the student learning time requirements in extraordinary circumstances, that has always been a last resort. Districts should be making a good faith effort to adjust school calendars for the balance of the year. If the remainder of the winter yields continued weather emergencies, ESE will reevaluate whether there is a need to grant waivers to individual districts, but the agency does not expect to issue a general, state-wide waiver.
The Department has received inquiries regarding so-called “blizzard bags,” assigned work sent home with students in advance of an expected storm. In many cases, this work appears to be very similar to normal homework assignments; there is educational value, but it does not necessarily meet the standard for structured learning time. For this approach to count toward the student learning time requirements, school districts must ensure that such work is structured learning time, is substantial, and has appropriate oversight and teacher involvement. To the degree that learning outside of the school setting may rely upon parental involvement or access to technology, districts must also account for the widely varying circumstances in students’ homes. Districts are encouraged to share their experiences as they experiment with different models so that all can learn about their effectiveness and develop examples of best practices.
Some districts have asked about lengthening the school day so that the minimum total learning time requirement (900 hours in elementary schools and 990 hours in secondary schools) can be met in fewer than 180 days. The Department has not previously approved such arrangements. However, if a district has made every effort to reschedule the lost days, including the use of April vacation and professional development days, we are willing to consider proposals for longer days to make up any remaining days. Such proposals must demonstrate a positive impact on student learning. The amount of time being added to a day must be significant, the reduction in the total number of days must be minimal, and districts will need to provide information on implementation issues including teacher contract provisions, bus schedules, parent input, and students’ ability to participate in afterschool activities.”
At this point, we are in good shape compared with several other communities who started school after Labor Day and will be ending the school year on June 25th. If we have additional school cancellations, we will need to review some other alternatives.
Hopefully, this weather pattern will change, the air will warm up, and spring will come soon!