Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rumor busting: snow day and the WPS calendar

With all of the snow, I am seeing misinformation and rumors spreading about the Worcester Public Schools calendars and how snow days work. Let's straighten that out.

First--and this is the bit that everyone knows--state law says the public school students in Massachusetts must attend school for 180 days. State regs also say that elementary students must have 900 hours of instruction, and secondary students 990 hours of instruction.

The state requires that school committees (and yes, it is we who do this) pass a calendar of 180 days with 185 days indicated. Generally, Worcester does this several years at a time; in September of this year, Worcester School Committee passed next year's calendar, though we sent the follow years proposed to subcommittee. The current school year calendar (for 2014-15) is here.
You'll see that the above calendar has June 12th circled; that's the 180th day. It also has June 19th circled; that's the 185th day.

The misunderstanding seems to start with the idea that the 19th means anything. It doesn't really, to anyone except DESE, which requires it to confirm that we've given ourselves some wiggle room. We started this year with the last day being June 12; as we've now had eight snow days, our last day is June 24. There isn't any action required by anyone for that to happen; we just roll over a day.
Note: I've dropped a section on June 30 here, and here's why.

The Commissioner reminded us on Friday of how the rest of this works:
The Student Learning Time regulations include a provision (603 CMR 27.06) that allows the commissioner to waive the 180 day requirement when an emergency or extraordinary circumstance forces the closing of one or more of the district schools. To clarify when districts will be expected to make up lost time, how much time will need to be made up, and when waivers will be considered, we have established the following guidelines:
  1. All days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies between the first day of the school year and March 31 must be made up by rescheduling full school days to ensure a 180-day school year.
  1. All days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies between April 1 and June 1 must be made up to ensure a 180-day school year or at least until the district has reachedits previously-scheduled 185th day, whichever comes first. If all five snow days have been used prior to this point, the district is not required to schedule additional school days.
  1. Districts will not be expected to make up any days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies that occur after June 1.
aka: no, he's not going to waive the requirement for snow days that we've had in January and February.

BUT, some say, what about the year of the ice storm?
In 2008-09, Worcester had 11 days off due to the ice storm that knocked out power to much of the city for days. Worcester's administration and school committee chose not to eliminate days from February or April vacation; instead, the schools added time to the days in the spring to make up the day.
Similarly, the Commissioner comments:
Making up missed days can be done in several ways. School districts may decide to cancel or shorten the April vacation period, convert scheduled professional development days into school days for students, hold school on Saturday, keep school open on Good Friday, or add days later in June beyond the originally scheduled last day of school. 
We have a new waiver process that allows districts to propose alternative, innovative calendars to support and enhance student learning. In the case of proposals for longer school days in lieu of the required 180 days, we will need to see details on how the longer day would be structured, how it fits with teacher contracts, and how it would benefit students. More information on this waiver process is posted on our website.
So, what will Worcester do?

No decision has been made as yet. Any changes to the school calendar have to be voted by the School Committee, and I'll be sure and let you know! As the superintendent has said, at this point, all options, save doing anything to February vacation, as it starts Friday, are on the table.

To answer a few related questions:

  • what about learning at home? Burlington and Wayland are piloting initiatives this year that allow students to do work at home on snow days, meaning that they will not need to make up their snow days. This is a pilot that DESE allowed; whether it will be allowed to continue or expand is yet to be seen. We aren't there yet.
  • what about a different break? I often hear a single week in March suggested. First, know that this only saves us three days: the Monday of February break is Presidents' Day (a federal holiday); the Monday of April break is Patriots' Day (a state holiday); take away the five days off in March and you only regain three days. This has, however, been suggested in districts across the state over the year. The biggest challenge to this is that district personnel tend to cross district lines, so having a single district do it is a big challenge. I've been told of districts that have tried it, only to switch back. That's not to say it's not impossible; it's just not as easy as a single vote. 

  • Please share! And, as always, if any of the above is unclear, let me know!

    1 comment:

    Marissa Skeates said...

    Thanks Tracy. I like the idea of a March break or work on snow days for the kids so it's counted.