Education

Wake County says spring break makeup day plan final

Wake County School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner speaks during a press conference regarding Wake County makeup days after an afternoon school board committee meeting Monday at the Wake County Public School System Central Administration Building in Cary.
Wake County School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner speaks during a press conference regarding Wake County makeup days after an afternoon school board committee meeting Monday at the Wake County Public School System Central Administration Building in Cary. jhknight@newsobserver.com

Faced with rising complaints about cutting into spring break for snow makeup days, Wake County school leaders said Monday their decision is final, but that they’re trying to provide flexibility to avoid penalizing students and staff who can’t attend those days.

More than 7,500 signatures have been collected on an online petition asking Wake to restore the three days being taken out of spring break. Complaining parents, students and teachers cite conflicts such as payments for spring break vacations that are nonrefundable.

School leaders said the makeup days announced Saturday won’t change, but that they’ve told principals to help students and staff deal with circumstances that are beyond their control.

“We will follow the guidelines established by the state for leave, but we’re going to do it in a manner that ensures that we’re not penalizing teachers or students,” Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, said at a news conference.

For instance, Moore said absences during the spring break makeup days won’t be counted against high school seniors who are seeking exemptions from some final exams. The exemptions are based on students’ grades in the class and the number of absences they have.

Moore also said students who miss time will be given the opportunity to make up the work for full credit.

Teachers and other school employees have also voiced concern about potentially having to pay for substitutes and take an unpaid day if they don’t cancel their spring break plans. Moore said they’re working through the final details of how they’ll work with staff to avoid penalizing them.

Families and staff at Wake’s traditional-calendar schools have ridden a roller-coaster path as they wait to see what would happen to the spring break that was scheduled to start March 23.

After Wake initially missed four days on Feb. 17-20, school leaders announced that March 23 would be used as one of the makeup days. Following complaints, Wake dropped that plan in favor of changing early-release days to full days and taking advantage of schedules that build in more time than the 1,025 hours required annually.

Wake tweeted out that “spring break is safe” last Tuesday when a decision was made to replace the Feb. 25-27 snow days by holding classes on Good Friday and two Saturdays. The situation changed again Saturday morning when the district announced it was instead going to schedule traditional-calendar students for school on March 23-25 – the first three days of spring break.

Moore said that between Tuesday’s board meeting and Saturday, staff realized there would be problems with using Saturdays and “went back to the drawing board.”

Moore and school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said the district needs to reexamine how it announces makeup days.

“When we look at the totality of what we’ve done across the last month or so with the inclement weather, I will readily say that we need to take a look at both our processes and our messaging to make sure we’re providing a greater level of consistency for families,” Moore said.

Making up class time during the previously scheduled spring break has produced a social media backlash from parents, students and teachers who’ve complained that the school system’s flip-flops on the makeup days have put them in a bind. Several people complained that they had confirmed their travel plans after Wake announced last week that spring break was safe.

“My budget only allows me to buy cheaper nonrefundable airline tickets,” Deidra Amon, a teacher at Combs Elementary in Raleigh, wrote on the petition asking Wake to save spring break. “I cannot walk away from $200 of airline tickets that I previously purchased.”

Meredyth Bass, a parent, wrote on the petition that Saturdays and Good Friday were perfectly fine for her.

“We waited until it was announced that Wake Co would not use spring break to make our plans,” she wrote. “Then they go and change their minds when it’s too late to rearrange again.”

Several critics have complained to Wake for not holding makeup days on teacher workdays June 9-11 instead of using spring break. But Moore said several parents and teachers have told the district that extending the end of the school year is not the best time for makeup days because it comes after state exams and high school graduations.

While Kushner said she feels sympathy for people who are negatively affected by cutting into spring break, she said they’ve also gotten thanks from parents and teachers for not holding Saturday classes.

Kushner also placed blame for the makeup days on the state’s calendar law, which limits when traditional-calendar schools can begin and end the school year. She said parents and teachers should contact state legislators to push for changes in the calendar law.

“What the staff is trying to do is to make the best decision for the entire school system with very limited choices,” she said. “We don’t have flexibility in our calendar.”

Hui: 919-829-4534; Twiter: @nckhui

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