Two words that chill school administrators and teachers this time of year: wintry and mix.
Over the past two weeks, local school districts were closed for three or four days, not to mention late starting bells and early releases, because of snow, sleet and freezing rain.
Districts are required to have two prospective makeup days noted on their school calendar, but this stretch not only eclipsed those but also occurred after some districts’ designated dates had passed.
The situation will likely be addressed in applications for waivers from the Texas Education Agency for missed instructional days. That label can cover anything from district-wide icy weather to a power outage such as the one at Moore Elementary School in Arlington last week that caused students to miss a day.
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The Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district canceled schools on three days — Feb. 23, 24 and March 5. It has scheduled makeup days for April 17 and May 29 and will seek a state waiver for the third snow day.
Waivers aren’t automatically granted, said Lauren Callahan, a spokeswoman for the TEA, but the agency and districts are usually able to work something out.
While classes can be canceled if bad conditions exist before school starts, administrators have the option of calling an early dismissal if weather conditions deteriorate during the day. That doesn’t count as a missed day and gets buses moving before the worst icing and heaviest traffic occur. Many districts did that on Feb. 27, when Dallas/Fort Worth Airport recorded 2 inches of snow.
Parents in the H-E-B district were fortunate on Feb. 27 because early releases were already scheduled because of exams.
For teachers, snow days can put a chill into the best-laid lesson plans.
Maura O’Neill, an assistant principal with the Fort Worth district who retired this year from William James Middle School, remembers snow days, especially the weeklong Super Bowl freeze of February 2011.
“It’s especially tough this time of year because the kids are getting ready for their state testing,” she said. “It puts the teachers behind because everything’s pretty much scope and sequence on what you’re going to teach and when you will teach it.”
Covering testing material is crucial, O’Neill said.
“Whether they get it or not, they’re going to get tested on it,” she said. “As far as adding days to the calendar in June at the end of school, in Fort Worth summer school picks up really quickly once the spring term ends.”
O’Neill’s daughter Erin Kimball teaches first grade in Mansfield at Thelma Jones Elementary.
“It puts the teachers more behind than the students,” she said.
“The students, they’re a little silly about the snow,” Kimball said. “It gets hard to calm them down.”
Kimball prefers snow days being called than to have low-attendance days.
“If you have a bunch of students absent, then they don’t get to make up that day,” she said.
Her school and grade level has intervention time built into the school day four times a week, when extra help in reading or math can be given if instructional time is lost. It helps young students review past material if they’ve been away for a few days.
“If you’re an effective teacher, then you can make it work out,” Kimball said.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657
School makeup days
Birdville: Three days taken off. One makeup day is April 3. District is reviewing options for two other days.
Carroll: Three days taken off. Makeup days are April 3 and May 22. District will file a waiver for third day.
Grapevine-Colleyville: Three days taken off. Makeup days are April 3 and May 22. District will file a waiver for third day.
Hurst-Euless-Bedford: Three days taken; makeup days are April 17 and May 29. District will file a waiver for third day.