Want to start a heated debate at your home or workplace?  Pose the question of whether West Virginia public schools close too often because of bad weather.

Some folks begin with, “well, when I was a kid they never called off school.”  Others say we’ve become wimps about bad weather, but you will also hear parents argue that children should not be waiting outside for the bus when it’s four degrees.

As of yesterday, Kanawha County, the state’s largest school district, has had only three-and-a-half days of school since the Christmas break due to the weather and the water emergency.

Through it all, I pity the county school superintendents.  Regardless of the decision—hold classes or cancel school—about half the parents are angry.  I give the supers the benefit of the doubt that they are doing what they believe is in the best interest of student safety.

Part of the problem is the antiquated school calendar.  We’re still beholden to the old agrarian mindset that kids need the summers off to work on the farm.  Public schools should operate, like virtually everything else, on a year-round schedule with interspersed breaks.

West Virginia schools have the option of year-round school (called “balanced calendar”), but few choose it. The current school calendar is a logistical nightmare and not conducive to knowledge retention from year to year, but it’s familiar.  All involved have become comfortable with building the rest of their lives around it.

Next year, however, things change.  The education reform bill passed by the Legislature last year (SB 359) is designed to give counties more flexibility when figuring out when children should go to school and how to have 180 days of instruction.

Here are some of the key elements of the new law, as defined by the state Board of Education.

–County school boards must have at least two public hearings so all interested and affected parties can have input on the calendar.

–Counties must have 180 days of instruction.  Currently, counties are supposed to have 180 days in class, but if there’s a bad winter, many counties fall short.

–The beginning and ending dates for the employment term for teachers and service workers have been extended from 43 to 48 weeks.  That gives counties more time to reach 180 days if they miss a lot of snow days.

–School systems must add minutes of instruction to the school day or additional instructional days to make up for time lost due to delayed school openings or early closings.

These and other changes in the calendar won’t end the debates over whether to have school when it snows, but they will ensure that lost time will be made up.

 

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Comments

  • SouthernWV

    The 180 day school calendar has very little impact on what our children learn. When 20% of the 180 days are spent watching movies instead of actual instructional time and effort. It is all about memorization in todays environment. Not problem solving. Our government wants our children to be dependent on them.
    However the consolidation of the schools over the years does factor in when you consider how far many of these students are transported verses the number of miles that they use to be transported.

    • GW

      Please back up your assumptions with research.

      • SouthernWV

        It not an assumption. It is witnessed by my own child's actions in regards to the days events or the upcoming school day events. I have seen a very big decline in the public school system requirements in the 5yr span between my children. As holidays and other school events approach the school system allows for movies to be shown instead of instructional time. When it comes time for the West-Test they spend the day before reviewing only the subject matter.

  • Ed Wouldn't

    I think it's time to find ways to get kids to school during cold/snowy weather. By that I mean look at the reasons why schools are closed, some say too often (me), and find ways to overcome them. How do we make transportation safer and more reliable? If the answer is "we can't" then we need to change the school calender so that it revolves around the time of year that apparently we're not going to be able to have classes.

    And, yes, we need to accept the fact that many people have become "weather cowards". How you overcome that I have no idea except possibly saying "we understand your concerns" and then just doing what you have to do to get kids in the classrooms.

  • mntnman

    Lets begin by noting that most counties in WV are rural -- when it snows or is extremely cold, it is tough to get kids to school. Especially small ones who have to be at the bus stop at 6 or so to get to school. So, when it is extremely cold, or the roads are bad, then it is tough to get kids to school. We have to keep them safe. That is an absolute. Weather is a tough one to manage, since we can complain about it, but we can't control it.

    As for the modified or balanced calendar, counties are looking at it. Guess what, the data does not show great gains in achievement. I personally like the balanced calendar idea, and when we recently polled our teachers and service personnel, the vote was higher than we thought -- 50 % would prefer the modified or balanced calendar. Nonetheless, if the data does not show that there are significant gains in achievement, then why would we do it? Just because we can? Poor reason.

    The idea is one we need to discuss, research, think about and if we choose, to implement. I personally think that the public will be the hardest sell. Those I speak to generally do NOT like the idea -- too much change, interferes with summer, etc, etc, etc. Then again, if its the right thing to do, after considering all factors, then we do it anyway, if we really are leaders.

    I will end with this. The balanced calendar is not a magic bullet. It will solve some problems, and create others. IN education, scheduling procedures are not a magic bullet. There is but one true magic bullet. Excellent teachers, teaching motivated children whose parents are engaged. You give me that, I'll give you the best school system in the world. Yes, even in poor ole West Virginia.

    • The bookman

      Bingo

    • GregG

      Back in my day, we started school after Labor day and went until the last of May. Having 3 months off didn't seem to effect our education. But then again we had quality teachers and smaller classes than we have today with all the consolidation. There was no such thing as "elementary" and "middle". It was grade school, K-8. And many grades were combined in the same classroom. Today school is more like a fashion runway. More importance is placed on walking the halls with the most expensive iPhone and wardrobe than receiving an education.

  • TheFungoKnows

    In this modern day of the internet, personal computer, laptops, and tablets, couldn't the school systems have something in place to have internet studies or classes held over the computer. On most school closing days, the teachers usually have to report anyway. Why pay them to sit around empty classrooms all day??

  • Sandy

    West Virginia homes have internet. Distance learning should be considered. Give them snow day homework.

    • NCWV

      And students with no internet access (there are more than you care to think about) could be paired with students who do so they don't miss the online content. We also used to require 'inclement weather packets' that had work that would allow students to practice skills so they could continue to learn while at home. Many kids would actually benefit from a chance to practice some basic skills in a low-stress environment.

  • SAF

    I am for the "balanced calendar"! When classes start in August after the kids have been on break for 2 months plus, the teachers have to reteach and review the material from last year to get the students revved up again. Let's not forget the last week or so of school: field trips, field days at school, movies, etc. How could anyone count that as instructional time?? Of course children need a break, but there has to be some way to fulfill the need for a break and keep our children's skill levels up to par. As for snow days....I rarely see that many children standing outside; another person posted that he sees kids sitting in warm cars by the road waiting for the bus. Another issue: parents take their kids directly to school instead of sending them on the bus. The school buses have to weave through an obstacle course of soccer mom vans and giant SUV's to get the students to the door. One more point: snow cancellation decreases parents' job attendance. In my office area, I can look around and see a lot of empty desks because school is canceled AGAIN. A balanced calendar would give families the foresight to arrange for child care during a PLANNED winter break. Right now, we do have to worry about cold temps, poor road conditions, but a calendar adjustment could take away a majority of those issues.

    • The bookman

      How does a balanced calendar solve those issues? There are 4 schools in the state on a balanced calendar. Piedmont and West Side in Kanawha County and Cameron Elem and Cameron HS in Marshall. Do you think they have avoided losing days due to poor weather utilizing a planned winter break? Balanced calendars do provide a shortened summer break, but only by a few weeks.

      It should be up to local boards to decide, after collecting input from the public...the state provides the framework with which the local BOE's must work within, and that is the current system in place in developing calendars for 2014-2015 school years and forward.

      I have voiced my opinion to my local board through the public forum process as everyone should do. I prefer the traditional calendar that starts early August and completes in the shortest possible time, with ZERO protected breaks. I have also been told that 2 hour delays will not be used on poor weather days, and I think that is a good thing. In the end, it doesn't matter balanced versus traditional, long summer break versus short. It is about quality time in school learning new skills from teachers. If these kinds of issues really mattered in terms of student achievement, the results of some study would have been presented long ago. This is a personal preference issue and nothing more, which is ok. But let's not make it out to be some solution to a pressing issue that will improve achievement.

      • SAF

        Quality is your key word....and I totally agree. Achievement can't be improved if the children aren't in school as much as they should be. That makes quality so much much more pressing when you have to play catch up because of winter weather and reteaching at the beginning of the year. I like your ZERO protected breaks idea.

    • susanf1218

      And what happens if the snow days occur NOT during the scheduled winter breaks in the balanced calendar approach? Then, not only are kids out of school even longer than they might otherwise be, but those missed days are then made up in the summer break, thereby shortening it even more. And if you just take away the planned winter break and substitute the snow days for it, there goes the idea of it being planned. And even if parents and students WANTED to take a vacation in the dead of winter, this would totally screw up those plans. There is no good solution because we can't control or plan for weather events that disrupt school. The so-called balanced calendar doesn't "fix" anything, and as other have pointed out, research does not support the claims that it improves learning, test scores, etc., and creates as many problems as it solves. As a parent, I would hate the idea of having to arrange for child care 4 or 5 times per year for shorter segments of time than a longer period in the summer months. It isn't practical or convenient or necessary. And breaking the school calendar into shorter, chopped up periods of attendance can't be any more effective than our current system. Just a passing fad.

      • The bookman

        It is a matter of personal preference, and the process has been structured to include public input. Make your case heard to your local BOE. As you have stated, one does not produce better results than the other, and although a balanced calendar may not be convenient or practical for you, it may be for others. I know of many families who take a winter vacation to Disney, or take a cruise in January. The point is everyone has the right to voice their opinion, but in the end, student achievement will continue to be impacted by parents, students, and teachers, not a selection of calendar options.

  • thornton

    I doubt the educational problem lies with the front or rear of a school calendar. Rather than fret over losing out on a handful of instructional days, I'd be more concerned with the loss in the quality of the instructional days presented to a child.

    But that requires looking at schools themselves, bond levies, consolidation, teachers, parents and, children. Can't have that. So, best to blame the weather or relate all the woes to some antiquated agrarian timetable offering up the chance for a kid to be a kid. In other words, look past the difficult to address or where the bulwarks rise in a speedy "not me" defense and look toward the skies and away from the largest percentage of instructional days set in front of a child.

    As far as cold and citizen toughness....look to how many adults sport earmuffs or scarves(good grief) and yank on gloves at the first possibility of a chilly digit. A nice coat and a Stormy Kromer will resolve most cold issues....that is, if warmth is more important than whining. Mostly though, warmth comes in second today.

  • GregG

    Personally I believe that school consolidation is part of the problem. Consolidation was just a way to "save money", and we all know in todays world that is all that matters. We need not worry about the problems consolidation causes. It's all about the money.

  • Common Sense

    It all comes down to quality (instruction) than actual quantity (180 days). We all remember what the last week of school was like so reaching a required amount of days never concerns me; what is taught and retained within those days should be the focus.

    • GregG

      I couldn't agree more!! All this consolidation has not increased the quality in my opinion.

    • wirerowe

      That makes common sense to me

  • TD

    First, begin school an hour later, that would eliminate most 2 hour delays. When I went to school classes started at 9 am and we finished at 4 pm, now school is out before 3 pm at my old high school which is bad all around. Kids have to get up too early AND they're home hours before their parents.

    Secondly, eliminate the monthly Faculty Senate which take half a day Or an entire day (1/2 the kids don't even go on those days) out of every month, and does NOTHING to improve the education.

    Finally, eliminate spring break, cut down on Christmas break. The extra 10 days can be found without disturbing the summer break, that's the best part of being a kid.

  • jay ziehm

    whens the last time you saw chains on a school bus I haven't for quite sometime. When waiting for a school bus you dress for the elements. from what I've seen most parents have their kids in family cars at the end of the driveway. As for the school year kids need their summers to enjoy the out doors to a certain extent but not three months. do away with the deer season break that's the stupidest thing I ever heard of anyway. Thanksgiving weekend is plenty. I heard a couple of coments about lawsuits over the radio about kids freezing in the cold weather (frostbite and such) well just because theres school doesn't mean you have to send your child out into the cold to wait for a bus. use common sense people. In some cases its to cold to go to school but not to cold to play outside or go to walmart Macdonalds and the like

    • Hoppyfan

      Saw a schoolbus with chains on the tires in Keyser yesterday. Next question? :-)

    • Mac

      OK jay ziehm - - Here's your answer: You can't do away with the deer season break simply because (1) there aren't enough substitute bus drivers to cover all the routes. A majority of the drivers ARE deer hunters. Now you see how the "service personnel" run the calendar. At one board of education meeting a few years back, a bus driver was overheard saying that (2) "if we're driving a bus the first week of deer season and a stray bullet goes through my bus, I don't want to be held responsible for student's safety, thus I don't want to drive!" Now you know WHY we have a full-week, Thanksgiving break.

  • epteach

    Why not look to the "mothership" aka Virginia?? This plan seems to work for one of the largest districts in the nation...

    Here is what Loudoun County sent out:

    The Commonwealth of Virginia requires that schools provide a minimum 990 hours of instructional time each school year with each school day being at least 5.5 hours long. The minimum length of an LCPS instructional day is 6 hours. (The total day is 6 hours, 45 minutes.)



    School divisions are required to have a plan for making up a total of 15 days missed because of bad weather or other emergencies. For 2013-2014, LCPS will operate on a180-day instructional calendar. Because the length of the instructional day in LCPS exceeds the 5.5 hour minimum, the 15 required “make-up days” are covered in the established school calendar.



    Loudoun County has had this policy governing the “fixed calendar” since 1990. The fixed calendar means that days missed for inclement weather will not cause truncated vacations, Saturday classes, lengthened school days, or changes in graduation dates.

  • CaptainQ

    Hoppy, I can see both sides of this argument. A friend of mine's been a county BOE member for a long time, and every time that subject is brought up to him, he bemoans the fact that during 'snow days', you end up seeing many school kids over at Walmart. But on the other hand, we live in the modern era of the lawsuit. All it would take is (God forbid) one school bus to wreck or one child to suffer hypothermia while waiting for the school bus on a severe weather day to get parents to 'lawyer up' and go after the county school system. Sounds far fetched? Indeed it is, but we have witnessed a person in Florida successfully suing McDonalds for spilling hot coffee in their lap because the cup didn't CLEARLY say the coffee was 'hot.' Can't blame county school systems for erring on the side of caution when making the decision to call off school.

    One fallacy I see in the logic of 'snow days' is the assumption of others that all children live near the 'main roads' of a county. Having lived in rural WV (rural as in WAY out in the country) most of my life, I can tell you first hand that most county/back roads in a county are plowed and treated LAST (if at all) and long after the so-called 'main roads' are. When making the decision whether to cancel school or not, the accessibility for ALL students must be taken into consideration, not just 'city' kids or those who are blessed enough to live on roads that are the first priority for snow plowing.

    Bottom line, after saying all this, I don't see how any county school system can do any better than what they're doing now in regards to snow days. To me, it's far better to put concern for student's safety FIRST rather than letting the draconian idea of fulfilling the 180 days of instruction quota to prevail. To me, there's some things in this world more important than bureaucratic obedience. The well being of our children attending school is one of those things.

    • The bookman

      Captain,

      Although I do believe County systems do struggle with the decision to call off school, they far too often make the easy choice. And that is understandable, in that up until next year, there are few consequences for missing days of instruction. Next year the impact of missing all of these days, and hours, of instruction MUST be made up, not excused. In five years we will no longer see the kind of policy we currently observe. Public and employee opinion will drive that change in policy to a more firm policy of attendance in spite of inclement weather.

      The proof can be observed today by viewing the cancellations and delays in WV, where make up policy is relaxed, and surrounding districts in OH and PA and MD, where make up policy us strict. Parents and Staff complain about having school cancelled in those adjoining areas due to weather as they might still be in school as late as the end of June making up snow days. There are also no protected breaks, no out of calendar days that are untouchable.

      Watch how quickly caution is thrown to the wind over the next few years as consequences are applied to the decision of calling school off due to the weather!

      • bulldog95

        Caution thrown to the wind. +1

        Once the teachers get their summers cut into, then and only then will school be held when more than a dusting of snow is on the ground.

        • The bookman

          The current policy we observe is a reflection of public opinion, not teacher influence. BOE's are responsive to public opinion, so laying the current closure or delay practice at the feet of teachers is not accurate, nor helpful, Bulldog. To make the claim that teachers are conspiring in the background to get snow days off is wild conjecture and only fuels the false perception that teachers are the root problem of the education failings we see in achievement. Again, not helpful. Many of the school systems that close require their teachers and staff to report to the buildings. What do they gain by canceling school?

          • stophating

            Well spoken Bookman!

            Just wait until next year--if one school has a water, electric, gas, heat, etc. issue entire counties will be closed......

          • The bookman

            Stophating,

            Wild conjecture as well. Luckily, Bulldog and yourself are not the key players trying to reach a consensus.

      • CaptainQ

        Bookman, I'd had some time to think about your post. Although you do bring up a very valid point about other state's school districts, there is one major difference between all of those states you cited and WV, and that difference is: POLITICS!

        While OH, PA and MD are actual two party government states, WV has always been and will always be, run by the Democratic Party. And in THIS state, unlike the others, unions (especially the WVEA and WVFT) still hold much sway with the Democratic junta that has had an iron grip on real control of West Virginia for over 80 years.

        I am very confident there is NO way the leaders of the WVEA and WVFT would permit the Mountain State to adopt the same draconian mandatory attendance policies as a PA, OH or a MD. As long as the Democrats control both chambers of the WV legislature, there'll be no radical reforms in this area of public school education, PERIOD.

        • The bookman

          You may be right Captain, but I see the winds changing here. Look no further than last year's Senate Bill referenced in Hoppy's commentary. They are serious at the WVDE in making significant accountable changes that are not planks you would find supported by WVEA or AFT. And the teacher unions in PA are very formidable, and will strike at the district level when their demands are not met. I would suggest that WV is on the verge of adopting these draconian measures of which you speak , and the Superintendents that I have spoken with are taking Phares very seriously with regard to the 180 day mandate. We will see how long and how far the rising tide takes us, or if it is derailed by the politics of which you speak.

  • WV Grad

    Kids of my day learned a heck of a lot during the summer, developed our bodies and refreshed our spirits; plus, we had higher test scores. Its the brief period in their life when they're free. Let them enjoy it to the fullest.

  • Randy

    I disagree about the old agrarian mindset. Maybe that is why the tradional school calendar exists, but I think a kid should be allowed to be a kid. That includes a lengthy summer break. WE have become wimps about the weather. I don't know how to fix that. People(including little kids) have the ability to endure very cold weather, but are not currently adept at how to handle it. Have people spend twenty minutes outside in temps colder than 5 degrees with a slight breeze and see if they then want 5 year olds waiting on the bus.