Make-up days still undecided School officials say options are limited

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 16, 2014

Kannapolis City Schools and the Rowan-Salisbury School System had to cancel three consecutive days of school this week due to the winter storm that swept across the area, dumping 8 to 10 inches of snow.
Both school systems canceled classes Feb. 12-14, and Kannapolis also released students two hours early Feb. 11.
These cancellations follow snow days on Jan. 29 and 30, as well as delays Feb. 1 for both school systems.
The decision to cancel or not to cancel is up to the superintendent for both Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis schools.
It’s one of the most difficult jobs Rowan-Salisbury Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody has, according to Rita Foil, the school system’s public information officer.
“There’s a lot of variables that have to be considered,” Foil said.
Moody has to think about the safety of 20,000 students and 3,000 staff members, as well as the buses, families and teenagers driving to schools in different locations across the county, Foil said.
Kannapolis Director of Community Relations Ellen Boyd said Superintendent Dr. Pam Cain closely follows forecasts from local television stations, the National Weather Service and Duke Energy, and she “makes that decision in consultation with transportation folks who are looking at the roads and weather.”
The Rowan-Salisbury School System has crews from the system’s transportation services drive the roads, particularly those known for being dangerous.
“If there’s ever a concern, we will err on the side of caution,” Foil said, adding that student safety always comes first.
State law mandates that each school district have 185 days or 1,025 hours of instructional time each year.
Classes can’t begin earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26, can end no later than the Friday closest to June 11 and must cover at least nine months of the year.
Each school year must schedule a minimum of 10 annual vacation leave days and 10 teacher workdays. In addition, schools must have the same or an equivalent number of legal holidays occurring within the school calendar as other state employees.
School cannot be held on Sundays or on Veterans Day.
Although some make-up days are worked into the calendar at the beginning of the academic year, the Rowan-Salisbury School System has exhausted most of those, Foil said.
The school system has a make-up day scheduled for Monday, Feb. 17, but has yet to decide what to do with the remaining four days it has missed.
Friday, Feb. 14, was supposed to be a make-up day as well, but classes were canceled due to poor road conditions caused by snow and ice.
Rowan-Salisbury administrators will meet this week to determine what to do about those missed days.
Foil said there aren’t a lot of options left.
“It’s much, much more complicated than it appears,” she said.
The panel will look at if they have any extra instructional hours they can use, as well as scheduling make-up days on Saturdays and over spring break.
While they are trying to protect spring break, “we would use if we had to,” she said.
She also said that the instructional hours would also have to be used to cover early dismissals and delays.
Kannapolis City Schools also have a limited number of make-up days built into their academic calendar.
Boyd said Kannapolis City Schools make the decision about make-up days on a case-by-case basis.
“This was such an unusual storm,” she said, adding that losing three consecutive days made it difficult to schedule make-up days.
Kannapolis City Schools have make-up days scheduled for Monday, Feb. 17 and Friday, March 28.
School leaders have decided not to schedule make-up days for the remaining two days they missed because they exceeded the minimum number of instructional hours required by state law.
Boyd talked to each principal in the school system before making the decision, and they agreed it was the best choice.
“We’ve got very good teachers that are going to adjust,” Boyd said.
In extenuating circumstances, the North Carolina Board of Education has the right to waive up to five instructional days and convert them to teacher workdays.
In addition, Gov. Pat McCrory said that he will see what he can do to make make-up policies more flexible this year during a press conference Friday, according to the Associated Press. He said he plans to talk to legal advisers, state Superintendent June Atkinson and the North Carolina Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey to see what can be done.
Another option for school systems that experience frequent inclement weather is to apply for a weather related calendar waiver. The waiver allows schools to start the Monday closest to Aug. 19 to give them more leeway for snow days.
However, neither Rowan-Salisbury nor Kannapolis schools qualify for the waiver.
Only school districts that have missed more than eight instructional days in any four of the last ten years may apply for the waiver. School must be canceled all day in order to count toward the waiver.
Over the past 10 years, the Rowan-Salisbury School System has only topped that number twice, once in the 2003-2004 school year, and again in 2009-2010. The most days Kannapolis City Schools have had off in a year is six.
Most school systems that apply for and are granted a weather related calendar waiver are located in the mountains, such as Watauga, Buncombe and Ashe.