Snow, ice and blizzard conditions have put the brakes on classes for schools all across the state this year — and it has administrators searching for ways to make up the missed days. Iowa Department of Education spokesperson, Elaine Watkins-Miller says they’ve had a lot of calls and recently issued some guidelines.
Watkins-Miller says the department wanted to provide more flexibility for schools, and issued guidelines that allow districts to add time to the end of the day to be used toward making up a snow day. She says the districts are required to add no less than 30 minutes to the school day to qualify.
“They can do more than that, but we are requiring them to do no less than 30 minutes,” Watkins Miller says. She says they want to ensure the districts are using enough time so they can “offer a quality educational experience.”
Students are required to be in school for 180 days, and a day has to be five and half hours long to qualify. Watkins-Miller says they ask district to explore adding days before adding hours. She says they asked that local schools boards make a finding that adding days at the end of the school year would interfere with summer education opportunities. But she says there’s obviously a need for other options instead of just adding days at the end of the year.
Watkins-Miller says it appears many districts have already hit over one week of missed days. She says they don’t keep track at the state level because it is a local decision, but from what they’ve been hearing, districts have had as many as eight or nine days. She says two years ago districts had 10 to 15 total snow days. There are still several weeks of winter left.
The South Hamilton school district in Jewell is an example of how districts are trying to fit in the days and please everyone. Superintendent Lyle Schwartz says they’ve missed eight days — made one up in January — but found that tacking the rest onto the end of the school year was not the preferred plan.
He says adding the days onto the end of the year would keep students in school through June 7th. Schwartz says they had a lot of input from staff, community members and parents who were concerned about extending the school year. He says any time you change the calendar “you do interfere with people’s plans.”
Schwartz says the school board voted to use two days that would have been spring break as make up days and they also plan to use a weekend day. He says they decided to take one Saturday at the end of February and the rest of the days will be tacked onto the end of the year. Schwartz says right now that will make the school year run until June 2nd. He says deciding to use spring break days and a Saturday was not easy.
“It’s a situation that we wish we weren’t in and we know that people’s plans are affected by this, and we understand that people who have plans over spring break, that they will continue with those plans. And that’s both parents and students and staff, and we will work with them the best that we can to get through this,” Schwartz says. The Department of Education has its guidelines for snow days listed on its website at: www.iowa.gov/educate.
Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City contributed to this story.