Many Wake students skip school today

Staff WriterApril 6, 2009 

Wake County schools had more empty desks than usual this morning, as many students skipped class on what was to be the first day of spring break.

The county schools scheduled today and Tuesday as makeup days for classes canceled because of snow in January and March. The change cut into spring break, which now runs Wednesday through Friday.

Wake school officials had not compiled systemwide absentee numbers this morning. But principals were reporting poor attendance.

At Davis Drive Elementary in Cary, about 20 percent of students stayed out of school, said Principal Pat Andrews. The school of nearly 1,000 students normally has an attendance rate of about 96 percent, she said.

Davis Drive students were to eat lunch in their classrooms today and Tuesday because of a shortage of teachers' assistants for cafeteria duty. Of the school's 21 teachers' assistants, 12 took the day off, Andrews said.

Andrews took "a tough line" on absences today and granted only two excused absences for students. But there was one bright spot at Davis Drive: "The carpool line was much easier, especially since it rained," she said said.

At Wakefield Middle, about 32 percent of 1,320 students skipped class today, said Principal Tripp Crayton. The high absentee rate, however, was not disrupting classes. "We are treating it like a regular old day," Crayton said.

Many students had obtained excused absences, in some cases claiming that their vacations have an educational component. Some parents, for instance, said that a trip to the beach could be related to the curriculum and thus received excused absences for their children, Crayton said.

School officials tend to take the parents' word for this. "We're not going to send an investigator out," Crayton said.

Athens Drive High School was still gathering numbers this morning, but with about 20 teachers absent, some classes doubled up, said Principal William Crockett.

"The hallways are less crowded, and the classrooms have smaller numbers," Crockett said. But teachers were leading classes as usual, and students will have to make up for any missed instruction, he said.

At Broughton High School in Raleigh, about 30 percent of students were absent, fewer than Principal Stephen Mares had anticipated. "For once there's actually some parking at Broughton," Mares said.

The Wake school system had little choice but to schedule the makeup days for today and Tuesday because of the timing of the snowfall, said system spokesman Michael Evans. A calendar listing the dates for makeup days was adopted two years ago, he said.

The school system's ability to schedule makeup days is limited by laws requiring classes to be in session 180 days, with 1,000 hours of instruction, he said. Also under state law, schools cannot extend classes past June 10.

If only a single day had been lost to snow, the school system might have been able to schedule a makeup class on Saturday, Evans said. But having to make up two days on consecutive Saturdays would have required staff overtime, he said.

Evans said county administrators had not heard many complaints from parents. "Most people make decisions based on their family situation and do what they are going to do and not discuss it with us," he said.

jane.ruffin@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4570

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