Snow daze

By on February 20, 2014

Weather adds length to school year; district’s options are limited

With snow and ice storms piling up school delays and cancellations, officials are seeking inventive ways to maintain a workable school calendar.

The 2013-14 school schedule, hammered out last summer by Warwick School District administrators, is in shambles.

Dr. April Hershey, superintendent, said the district is counting on guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which has the final word on what public schools can and cannot do.

“We, along with every other school district affected by this weather, are discussing ways to shorten the calendar by evaluating what tools we have available with the PA Department of Education,” Hershey said Tuesday.

Currently, schools are grappling with a mandate requiring students to attend school 180 days. But other states have issued waivers allowing districts to have a 176-day school year .

Those districts added eight minutes per day and four days of professional development.

Hershey said it’s unlikely to happen here though.

“This would take an act of state legislature,” she said. “I do not see it happening.”

Warwick, Ephrata, Cocalico, Elanco, Manheim, and other area districts once again were delayed two hours Tuesday due to snow.

Warwick has a total of seven days to make-up.

For now.

Mother Nature’s havoc has even affected Warwick’s rescheduling efforts. A snow make-up day scheduled for Friday (Feb. 14) was one of two days built into the 2013-2014 school calendar.

But school on Valentine’s Day was canceled due to more snow, forcing that day to be tacked onto the end of the year.

The other snow day already built into Warwick’s calendar is March 7.

Students also stayed home on Monday, President’s Day – that is negotiated in the teachers’ contract – to make a four-day weekend.

Warwick’s graduation date is traditionally planned after the winter storm season.

“Warwick’s graduation date is always chosen and voted on by the board in March,” Hershey said. “That will happen as it always does next month after the bulk of winter has passed. Our (graduation) venue is confirmed at Calvary Church, where we have graduated for the last four years.”

Warwick’s calendar is trickier than other school districts because it doesn’t start before Labor Day – this is also specified in the teachers’ contract. The original end-date for 2014 was scheduled for June 11. At the moment, the last scheduled day for students is Thursday, June 19. The last day for kindergartners is currently set for Wednesday, June 18.

“If we should have any more snow days, they would continue to be added onto the end of our school calendar,” Hershey said.

Hershey pointed out the remaining holidays and in-service days in the calendar cannot be used as snow make-up days. The district website offers a brief explanation as to why other off-days cannot be used for snow make-ups:

The teachers’ contract designates the following days as non-work days:

Monday, Feb. 17, President’s Day

Friday, April 18, Good Friday

Monday, April 21, Easter Monday

Monday, May 26, Memorial Day

The March 31 teacher in-service day is an “Act 80 Day” and counts as a day of student attendance. Since this is used for specific in-service purposes, it cannot be used as snow make-up, as it already counts as a student day.

On a bright note, Hershey said the Department of Education has lengthened the PSSA testing window, allowing Warwick to move back some of its “high stakes testing.”

“This will allow us to maximize instructional time that has been lost due to weather prior to the tests,” she explained.

She said Warwick will provide more information on testing schedules to parents when specific dates are set.

“Any potential for changes we make would be communicated in March through board action,” she said.

Patrick Burns is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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