Schools Run Short on Snow Days, Adjust Schedules

The first snow day of this brutal winter left teacher Christopher Crabtree almost as tickled as it did his three children, but delight is giving way to dread as school cancellations pile up — a whopping 15 days off so far in his southern Ohio district, with more snow in the forecast.
By KANTELE FRANKO and JOHN SEEWER
 
The first snow day of this brutal winter left teacher Christopher Crabtree almost as tickled as it did his three children, but delight is giving way to dread as school cancellations pile up — a whopping 15 days off so far in his southern Ohio district, with more snow in the forecast.

Now, even his 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old twins are missing friends and tired of being stuck at home, he said.

"We really need to get to back to school and some normalcy," said Crabtree, who teaches American Studies at Waverly High School, which lost much of January's class time to cancellations and two-hour delays.

He wonders how he'll get students ready for state standardized tests next month.

"I'm feeling the heat because there are things we have to cover," he said.

Schools in at least 10 states and the District of Columbia have run out of the wiggle room in their academic calendars, forcing them to cut short planned breaks, have class on holidays, adding extra days to the end of the year or otherwise compensate for the lost time.

Students will make up at least three days in Philadelphia and New Haven, Conn., and two in Washington, D.C. Delaware schools have missed a week's worth of class, and more than half of Maryland's school districts reached or exceeded their allotted snow days. Boston is extending its school year by nearly a week.

The add-on approach doesn't sit well with Jonathan Selig, a stay-at-home dad from Halifax, Mass.

"It's crazy. The kids are going to school at the end of June," Selig said. "Most of the schools aren't air-conditioned, so it's not really a conducive learning environment."

The schedule shuffle is a pain for parents and educators trying to plan for schoolwork, and child care now and vacation time later.

Dana Bethune, a mother of two girls in North Huntingdon, Pa., said her district always seems to be among the last to call off, leaving her scrambling to arrange for a caregiver or work from home. Bethune said her older daughter, a seventh-grader, no longer shares the younger one's bliss because she understands the trade-off: free time to dance and play video games now will cost them part of spring break, plus a holiday or two.

Some older high school students worry snow days could delay graduation, while others lament being cooped up by temperatures so low they rule out even sledding and snowmen.

"I'd rather be having summer time than have snow days," said 11-year-old Emma Fishbein of suburban Philadelphia. She said an ice storm that knocked out power last week made her extra time off even less enjoyable.

"We don't want to go outside because when we get back in, we don't have any power to warm ourselves up," she said.

Her mother, Rachel Ezekiel Fishbein, said the possibility of an extended school year also is making it tricky to register the sixth-grader for a camp that starts in June — even if she has enjoyed the extra time at home with her teenage son, who heads to college in the fall.

In Ohio, so many schools have exceeded their five allowable calamity days that state lawmakers are considering a measure backed by the governor to add more just for this year because of the unusually severe winter weather. Meanwhile, some schools are using "blizzard bag" take-home or online assignments to make up missed classes.

For school administrators, it's a question of balancing students' wellbeing with educational requirements often tied to funding. 

"The safety issue would trump anything else," said Rita Wolff, spokeswoman for Williamsville Central School District in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., which hasn't used all seven snow days built into its calendar.

In Indiana and Ohio, cancellations and delays have raised concerns about whether teachers have enough time to prepare students for statewide assessments this spring, which factor into school rankings and other performance measures. Ohio education officials have discussed the possibility of expanding the testing window to give schools a few extra preparation days, state Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said.

The Providence, R.I., district absorbed two of its three snow days by canceling planned teacher development days and will add a makeup day at year's end. In southeast Virginia, Suffolk will have classes on President's Day and Memorial Day, drawing some complaints from parents.

"Some people say these holidays shouldn't be messed with, some say don't take any of my spring break," Suffolk schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said, noting that it's impossible to please everyone.

Darcie Fisher, a mother of two girls from West Bridgewater, Mass., said she thinks schools do the best they can to accommodate snow days.

"Some years you get a ton of snow with a lot of snow days, some years you don't," Fisher said. "It's like playing roulette. Some years it works out, other years, it doesn't."
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