Districts Seek To Restore Order to Weather-Whipped Programs

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As schools throughout the eastern half of the United States reopened after last month's severe winter storms and record-breaking low temperatures, district officials faced the difficult task of restoring order to their instructional programs.

School officials last week were scrambling to find ways to make up for lost time that would both satisfy students, parents, and teachers and meet state guidelines.

And many districts were also contending with burst pipes, minor flooding and structural damage, and the prospect of astronomical heating bills for the month of January.

But several school officials said they were most concerned with the disruption to learning caused by prolonged school closings.

Snow, ice, and temperatures that plummeted well below zero in many areas closed thousands of schools in the East, Midwest, and Great Lakes region, and shut down such urban districts as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. (See Education Week, Jan. 26, 1994.)

The bitter weather kept students home in some rural areas for nearly 20 days last month. Other districts were closed only three or four days but already had used their allotment of snow days.

"January has not been a real industrious month here,'' said Superintendent Palmer Anderson of the Cottonwood-Wood Lake, Minn., public schools, where students missed classes for four days.

Many officials, however, said they feared the worst was yet to come. February and March--usually winter's harshest months--could throw school schedules into more disarray.

'Calamity Days'

Many districts already are dangerously close to dipping below their states' minimum 175- or 180-day school calendars. State aid often is withheld from districts that fail to meet the mandate.

In Kentucky, the hardest-hit districts "know they have to schedule in anticipation of snow,'' said Jim Parks, the press secretary for the state education department.

But even some of those school systems were not prepared for this year's harsh winter.

The Carter County schools in northeastern Kentucky, for instance, have been closed for 17 days since December--15 related to the weather and two because of an outbreak of the flu, said James Johnson, the district's personnel director.

Although the state used to forgive some "calamity days,'' the 5,000-student district will have to make up the time by cutting breaks, in-service days, or holidays.

Luckily, Mr. Johnson said, the shutdown coincided with the end of the district's first semester, which minimized the disruption to learning.

Still, he pointed out, the schools "lost a lot of valuable time'' needed to prepare for the state's year-end achievement tests.

Bruce McKenna, the superintendent of the Dover, N.Y., schools, south of Albany, said the interruption there "has really been significant.''

"We lost one solid week,'' he said. "And we had to back off on the second marking period because there was just too much time lost.''

Schools Get Creative

Mr. Anderson said his Minnesota district is still looking at how to cope with the lapse in instruction last month.

Already, the 600-student district has logged four snow days--two more than it planned for in its calendar--and more nasty weather is expected.

Because the district may not meet the state's 175-day minimum requirement, administrators are considering lengthening the school day by 10 minutes for about 50 days, he said.

Sharon Peck, a research analyst for the Minnesota education department, said, "There are a lot of districts worried that if the weather continues, they're going to be short.''

Only districts that have exhausted all efforts to use holidays or extend the school day or year would be eligible for a waiver, she said.

In North Dakota, hundreds of schools are asking Gov. Edward T. Schafer to forgive at least one snow day, said Joe Linnertz, the director of school support for the state education department.

The Governor has the authority under state law to give "one for two'' forgiveness, requiring districts to make up one out of every two days missed.

But North Dakota officials may not make any pardons until the state rides out the worst winter months.

Many schools have closed for five days or more, and the state's 180-day instructional calendar sets aside only two snow days.

Some districts may resort to Saturday classes to catch up, Mr. Linnertz said.

A few Kentucky districts might also have to consider Saturday sessions, especially if the state "gets another bad peak in the weather,'' Mr. Parks said.

Kentucky education officials also said there were about 200 reports of weather damage in schools there.

Roof Collapses in N.J.

Most school districts called last week reported only minor weather-related damage. However, several officials said they returned to schools with flooded hallways and failed heating systems. One administrator said his district's entire fleet of buses had broken down because of the record-low temperatures.

At an elementary school in the Sparta Township district in northern New Jersey, roof supports over a classroom buckled under the weight of snow, Superintendent Andre Montagne said.

Students were due to arrive for class that day, but the collapsed roof--discovered in the early morning--forced officials to evacuate the school. It was shut down for three more days last week for repairs, as workers inspected the beams in other classrooms.

Mr. Montagne said other district officials in New Jersey had "horror stories'' about leaky roofs, but few reported damage as significant as that in the elementary school.

Some of the district's students have been out of school as many as 10 days because of the weather and the damage in the one school.

Although school officials have already decided to forgo the midwinter break, Mr. Montagne said he has "yet to figure out how to have those kids [from the elementary school] make up the time'' they missed in addition to the snow days.

Vol. 13, Issue 20

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