Amid closures, schools seek ways to make up for lost time

Call it extreme winter break.

School districts across North Texas will not be open for the fourth consecutive day today, leaving administrators searching for ways to make up the missed time.

Arlington, Carroll, Crowley, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Grapevine-Colleyville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Keller, Mansfield and Northwest were among the districts to again cancel classes as subfreezing temperatures kept roads -- especially those around schools and in neighborhoods -- covered with ice. It doesn't help that there's a slight chance of snow today.

Fort Worth students already had today off because it was a planned staff development day, but that was also canceled.

While many districts closed for two days during snowstorms last year, it's not clear whether any have had to shut down for four days in recent years.

"It definitely is very rare," said Megan Overman, spokeswoman for the Grapevine-Colleyville district.

School districts, which must have 180 instructional days, build two bad-weather makeup days into their yearly calendars. Once those two days are used, districts can schedule makeup days on Saturdays, extend the school year or use other scheduled off-days, said DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

Districts can also apply for waivers in extreme situations. Last year, Education Commissioner Robert Scott denied only two waivers out of 142 requests.

"Each waiver is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and we try to let the district know as soon as possible for planning purposes," Culbertson said.

The deadline to ask for a waiver is June 24, and many of the districts plan to do just that.

In the Carroll district, administrators will ask trustees to approve a waiver request at their Feb. 21 meeting, district spokeswoman Julie Thannum said.

"I anticipate we will be among many districts submitting such a waiver," Thannum said Thursday.

Birdville district spokesman Mark Thomas said the superintendent and other administrators will decide whether to seek a waiver when they return to the office.

"It's all North Texas. It's an issue for everyone right now," he said.

Lengthening the school year might be difficult for some districts because graduation ceremonies are already scheduled and many visiting families have made travel plans. And because of the state's uniform start date, most schools hold commencement at about the same time, in late May or early June.

Birdville holds ceremonies for all three high schools May 29 at the Fort Worth Convention Center, a facility that is booked with several other graduations and events.

"That really is not even a discussion point right now," Thomas said of lengthening the school year.

Staff writers Jessamy Brown, Sandra Engelland, Nancy Matocha and Shirley Jinkins contributed to this report.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

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