Grissom: Making up snow days is complicated

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2011

Q : Why do days missed for snow have to be ěmade upî? Why canít days just be added at the end of the year? Why canít there be more days in the calendar designated for snow make-up?
A: These are just a few of the questions that have been asked over the last week. Missing school for snow and/or ice is always a difficult decision. Deciding on how to make up the days is an even tougher problem.
North Carolina law requires students to attend 180 days and 1,000 hours of school. North Carolina law does not authorize local boards of education or the State Board of Education to waive days from the school calendar when schools are closed due to inclement weather. Days missed for inclement weather must be made up.
Several years ago the legislature became involved in setting policies for school calendars and removed most of the flexibility and local control from school systems. The legislature received enormous public support for the changes that have forced school systems into fewer options when dealing with bad weather. As part of the legislation, schools cannot begin for students before Aug. 25 and students must finish before June 10. Therefore, additional school make-up days cannot be added at the end of the school year or even during the school year. Neither can time be added onto existing days in a school year to make-up for missed time (a provision that some will remember but was only allowed by the legislature for the 2002-2003 school year). School cannot be held on Sundays. Veteranís Day is designated as a holiday for all public school personnel and for all students enrolled in the public schools and cannot be used.
When a new year begins with as many days missed as the Rowan-Salisbury School System has already missed, there are very few days left within the confines of the state mandated calendar dates to make up days. School systems have five less teacher workdays because of the calendar law changes, which narrows the number of workdays that can be used. School systems cannot add more workdays in the calendar than the law allows and additional workdays would push the calendar starting or ending dates outside of the allowable year. Many school systems have been using Saturday make-ups for years. Some surrounding school systems have already planned two Saturdays for this particular snow/ice event.
This is the first time in many years that our school system has used a Saturday. Saturday make-ups are listed as possibilities in the approved calendar that everyone received prior to school opening. If there is more inclement weather in the next few months, Saturdays will continue to be a viable option for the school system because we are running out of available make-up days. Selecting ways to make up a day is not as easy as it seems especially with the state mandated calendar law and takes much thought, planning and creativity.
A related problem is that when school is closed, the missed day must be designated as either an annual leave day or workday so school employees will know how the missed day affects them (e.g., Do I have to go or not go to work?). It is at this point that we must consider the number and type of days that remain in the school calendar. We almost always go with a Code 1 for staff, which means that staff members can have ěoptionsî for that day. They may decide that conditions warrant that they stay home and take an annual leave day or a day without pay. They may also choose to work with their principal in making up the time at a later date. Some staff may live close to their work site and would like to come to work. Having an optional day is the best designation for a closed day, so staff can choose the option that fits their situation best. Staff are not ěmadeî to come to work during inclement weather.
If school is closed early due to inclement weather or is delayed, the State Board of Education allows the day and the scheduled amount of instructional hours to count toward the required minimum number of days and instructional hours. If school buses are enroute to schools when school is canceled for the day, then the day and instructional hours scheduled for that day will count toward the required minimum.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System has a Calendar Committee that meets on an annual basis to create the calendar for the following school year. All available options allowed within the limited flexibility granted to us by the legislature are considered to determine when missed days are made up. We continue to request that legislators in the General Assembly give more local control to school systems for establishing the school calendar. Situations like this past week are reason enough to change the calendar law.

Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.