Two words chill school administrators and teachers this time of year: wintry and mix.
Over the past two weeks, some districts have had as many as four school days canceled, 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 districtwide icy weather to a power outage such as the one at Moore Elementary in Arlington last week that caused students to miss a day before alternate plans were arranged.
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Waivers aren’t automatically granted, agency spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said, but the agency and districts can usually work something out.
There are some alternatives to missing an entire day. Some districts delay bus runs and opening bells for a couple of hours when the roads are dicey. If they do, however, they could face losing state funding based on average daily attendance. Sometimes, area district officials say, the loss can be thousands of dollars.
“They must have four hours of instructional time to call it a day,” Callahan said. “But some students won’t make it to class,” so districts can apply for a low-attendance-day waiver.
That waiver requires attendance to be at least 10 percent below the last recorded attendance for that day, usually the same date the year before. An event such as a widespread flu outbreak or localized stomach bug can be another reason for a low-attendance-day waiver.
If weather conditions deteriorate during the school day, administrators have the option of calling an early dismissal. It 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.
“Naturally, we expect districts to put students’ safety first in whatever call they make,” Callahan said. “We always take a look at it on a situation-by-situation basis.”
Remote and rural districts with lots of bus routes on lesser-used roads often cancel school further in advance and more often than large urban districts. Their procedure for waivers is the same, though.
Bad timing for teachers
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 at Thelma Jones Elementary in Mansfield.
“It puts the teachers more behind than the students,” she said. “The students, they’re a little silly about the snow. 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 have 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.
The headaches extend beyond the classroom, especially this year.
Last week was Texas Public Schools Week, a time for special assemblies and open-house nights on campuses in many districts.
Rescheduling of special events has to be stretched even further, thanks to spring break falling this week at most districts.
The Grapevine-Colleyville district’s website has a long list of events being rescheduled: elementary open-house nights now planned for mid-March, a mandatory high school dual-credit meeting for next year’s students, credit by exam and acceleration exams, Colleyville Middle School’s All-School Social, Heritage Elementary’s Honor Society induction and Colleyville Elementary’s talent show audition.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657
School makeup days
Azle: April 3 and May 22*
Aledo: April 3 and June 5
Arlington: June 4-5**
Birdville: April 3*
Burleson: June 4-5*
Carroll: April 3 and May 22**
Castleberry: April 3 and June 5*
Cleburne: May 22 and June 5**
Crowley: June 3-4*
Eagle Mountain-Saginaw: April 17**
Everman: May 25 and June 5
Fort Worth: April 3 and June 8
Grapevine-Colleyville: April 3 and May 22**
Granbury: April 3 and June 1
Hurst-Euless-Bedford: April 17 and May 29**
Joshua: June 5 and 8
Keller: April 6*
Kennedale: April 3 and June 5
Lake Worth: April 3 and May 25
Mansfield: April 2 and June 4 (both days were originally going to be early release days but now are full days). The last day of school moves to June 5 as an early release day.
Northwest: April 3**
White Settlement: April 3
Weatherford: June 1-2**
*The district has yet to determine how it will make up missed days not already covered.
**The district will seek a state waiver for makeup days not already covered.