Faced with mounting snow days, some Whidbey Island school districts are considering asking for waivers from the state to avoid extending the school year far into June.
School districts can apply to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to waive missed days that occurred the week of Feb. 8 when Gov. Inslee declared a state of emergency because of winter storms.
Superintendents with Coupeville and South Whidbey school districts both say they may apply for waivers. Oak Harbor says it plans to explore the options.
Both Coupeville and South Whidbey districts report five weather-related closures so far this school year; December 22 due to wind storm and loss of power; Feb. 4-5 and Feb. 11-12 for snow, ice and dicey road conditions.
Oak Harbor schools report three school closures, two late starts and one early dismissal this school year.
“Our approved school calendar has four emergency school closure make-up days listed if necessary,” said Conor Laffey, spokesman for Oak Harbor School District.
“The first day is Tuesday, May 28 with the other three days scheduled at the end of the year, June 21, 24, and 25.”
Coupeville has also had three late starts so far, which delays the start of school by two hours, and an early release because of the snow on Feb. 8.
South Whidbey has also had several delayed starts.
“Right now we are making up one day on Friday, May 24 and the second day on Friday, June 14,” said South Whidbey School Superintendent Jo Moccia.
“I am hoping we are able to get a waiver from OSPI for the other three days. Otherwise we will have to extend the school year.”
Coupeville Superintendent Steve King said the district has scheduled five make-up days on March 15, May 3, June 14, June 17 and June 18.
“It is possible that we may ask OSPI to waive some of these emergency closures,” King said. “I will discuss the waiver option with our school board and our district employee associations.”
In a news release, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal explained that state law allows OSPI to waive missed school days if a state of emergency is in effect.
However, waivers won’t release schools from fulfilling the mandated 1,027 hours of instruction for students.
A school calendar year is usually 180 days. However, the state counts the hours of instruction provided to students, not the number of days schools were — or weren’t — in session.
Adding hours without adding days may seem like new math but Moccia explained the formula.
“The school day is 6.5 hours of instructional time, and 30 minutes for lunch,” she said “180 days x 6.5 hours is 1170 hours.
“We have some wiggle room but with our early release days we need to calculate exactly where we are and if we need to change anything,” Moccia said.
“Nothing is final, especially if we get more emergency closures or if the waiver request isn’t approved.”
Reykdal said some members of the public have expressed concern that an extended school year will mean changing graduation ceremony dates. This can disrupt travel plans and reservations already made by relatives.
He encouraged districts not to re-schedule graduation dates.
“Although storms and events like this can disrupt school districts’ planned yearly calendars, there are many ways to make up instructional hours,” Reykdal said.
He added that he didn’t expect districts to seek waivers until “all of the unforeseen weather impacts are behind us.”
Superintendents said the response about the snow day closures has mostly been positive from parents.
“We have not had a lot of parents expressing concerns,” King said. “In fact, most have been very appreciative of the district keeping student safety the priority. We do consider family needs of childcare and planning so we notify them of any schedule changes as early as possible so they can plan accordingly.”
Although it may seem like an unprecedented number of times kids heard their prayed-for phrase “Snow Day” this winter, it’s not a record.
Coupeville school district records show five snow days in November/December 2009 while South Whidbey reported the last time it closed for five days was January 2012.
“The number of schedule changes and closures due to weather is high, but not believed to be a record,” added Laffey with Oak Harbor schools.