In what might be only temporary relief for families, the Wake County school system announced Monday that it won’t cut into spring break or hold classes on Saturdays to make up for last week’s four snow days.
Some families became upset last week when Wake initially announced plans to replace one of the snow days with a day from spring break for students on the traditional calendar, modified calendar and early colleges schedule.
But school officials said Monday they were able to come up with alternatives that – barring any more forced cancellations of classes – means they’ll be able to preserve a full spring break and avoid Saturday school.
However, spring break may again be jeopardized, because more snow could come this week.
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“Whoever worked on the makeup stuff, it looks like once again you sort of pulled a rabbit out of the hat, considering we had a number of days missed,” school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said Monday. “The weather forecasts are not exciting right now.”
Benton and other board members agreed Monday to ask the Wake County delegation of the General Assembly to introduce a local bill this session giving Wake flexibility on when to start and end the school year. School officials say the state’s school calendar law has created multiple problems, including making it difficult to schedule makeup days for bad weather.
In the short term, school districts are weighing the various options they have to comply with state requirements for students to receive 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction each school year. Most districts follow the time requirement, which means they don’t have to make up each day lost to weather.
To forgive three of the snow days, Wake is taking advantage of schedules that build in more than the 1,025 required classroom hours. To replace the fourth day, Wake is turning two early-release days, on March 6 and April 17, into full days instead of sending students home 2 1/2 hours early.
The new plan means the cancellation of previously announced makeup days on Feb. 28 for year-round schools, March 23 for traditional-calendar schools, March 9 for modified-calendar schools and March 16 for the early colleges.
The announcement was met with cheers from parents and students. “@WCPSS you are my hero. Thank you. Thank you,” tweeted Noah Rutledge, a student at Apex High School.
The only group that may be unhappy with the announcement is the Track 2 contingent of year-round students, who were not in session during last week’s snow days and who don’t have to make up class time.
But with Track 2 students in class on April 17, they’ll also be required to stay in class the 2 1/2 hours that would have been early release. School officials say transportation constraints make it impossible to run some schools and/or tracks on an early-release schedule, while other schools are on a full-day schedule.
School officials said Monday that they’d be in better position to handle snow days if not for the state’s mandate that traditional-calendar schools must start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.
“Due to state laws governing calendar flexibility, these changes leave spring break vulnerable if further cancellations are required,” school officials said in a release.
The school calendar law passed in 2004 with the backing of the tourism industry, which has fought back efforts to repeal or weaken the legislation. Tourism officials point to studies showing starting school in late August produces as much as $1 billion each year in economic growth through increased tourism-related sales.
“We support the existing school calendar law, which already provides school systems considerable flexibility, gives them the option of year-round schedules, and has served North Carolina well for a decade,” Rolf Blizzard, a Raleigh businessman and chairman of the N.C. Travel & Tourism Coalition, said in a statement Monday.
But there could be momentum for change. A coalition of groups, including the liberal N.C. Justice Center and the conservative John Locke Foundation, formed the group Let Our Calendar Authority Be Local (LOCAL) to push for changes letting individual districts set their calendars.
“Our local community will tell us if we go too far,” said school board member Bill Fletcher. “It’s a representative situation.”