Snow days don’t mean extra days later for most metro students

Jan 18, 2018
January 18, 2018 Lawrenceville - Paula Richards-Bell, 8th grade teacher at Jordan Middle School, is in a live chat session with her students using eCLASS portal at her home in Lawrenceville on Thursday, January 18, 2018. Gwinnett County schools, the largest school district in the state, launched its Distance Learning program on Jan. 8. The threat of icy streets and frigid temperatures forced administrators to close schools for the fourth day of the school year. It had already used up its three allotted “snow days” when Tropical Storm Irma bore down on the metro area. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Most students in metro Atlanta have missed a week or more of classroom time due to weather this school year, but few have to make up any of it.

Nearly every school district has a waiver from the state requirement of a minimum of 180 classroom days. And some, including Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, are keeping their students on track with the internet.

“We have online learning days so we don’t have inclement weather days built into the calendar,” said Jennifer Carracciolo, spokeswoman for Forsyth County Schools.

Atlanta kids, pets revel in the first snow day of 2018 Piedmont Park Edgewood Virginia Highland Freedom Parkway Virginia Highland Freedom Parkway

Like most, Forsyth missed school for Tropical Storm Irma, a weather scare last week and the snowstorm this week. The district kept kids learning online most of those days, but even if Forsyth falls behind, it won’t have to make up any days.

Forsyth and most other districts can get around the instruction time requirement with so-called “flexibility” contracts. All but two of Georgia’s 180 districts have them, and most of the contracts contain a calendar waiver.

The flexibility contracts allow exemption from many state rules in exchange for reaching goals on state tests and other measures.

Gwinnett County Public Schools’ contract doesn’t contain a calendar waiver, but that could change soon. The district petitioned the Georgia Board of Education last week to add a calendar waiver, and it’s to be considered next month. The Cobb County School District successfully petitioned for the waiver in the fall.

Randy Scamihorn, a Cobb school board member, said, “Any time the state can give you that flexibility, most people, I think, would want to have it.” It means the district won’t have to make up any of the seven days that would be missed as of Friday — two for Irma in September, one on Dec. 11 after a snowstorm, one last week for a dire weather forecast that didn’t pan out and three days for this week’s snow.

John Stafford, a Cobb district spokesman, said there has been no talk of making up for the closures, because Cobb’s school days are longer than required. “We’ve got plenty of seat time built in, so we won’t have to make up those days anyway.”

Even the handful of districts without waivers face little pressure to make up days. State law gives every district four missed days for inclement weather that don’t have to be made up, and the state education board can exempt closures on days that were during a state of emergency, as most were this school year.

There are still incentives to make up time, including student performance on the Georgia Milestones tests. Districts are held accountable for the results.

Many build make-up days into their calendars, often in the form of teacher-preparation days scheduled during students’ seasonal breaks. Sloan Roach, a Gwinnett spokeswoman, said her district will make up three of its six missed days with days already built into the calendar. She said the other three don’t have to be made up because, as in Forsyth, students studied online.

A state education department spokeswoman confirmed that online learning days count as regular school days. Also, schools don’t get docked when they close early or open late as long as students attend at least half the day.

DeKalb had several inclement weather days built into its calendar. In late September, school leaders debated reneging on a planned fall break in October, but eventually settled on adding time to the school days through October and November, and sending students to school on Election Day in November.

This time, district officials could choose to eliminate a winter break scheduled in February.

Clayton County Schools officials said make-up days will be discussed after administrators return from snow days.

Fulton County Schools will announce its strategy for making up the instructional time next week, said spokeswoman Donna Lowry.

On Thursday evening, Atlanta called off school for Friday, which means it will have missed seven days.

Earlier, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen asked parents, via her blog, to weigh in on how best to make up the lost days.

She wrote on her blog that APS’ state charter “DOES NOT require us to make up days. BUT, I am concerned about the significant loss of instructional time we have suffered.”

Some parents feel days should be recouped, regardless of calendar waivers, to avoid chaos when lesson plans get behind, or to keep children competitive with others.

“I already feel we’re behind,” said Kathryn Brown, whose daughter, a kindergartner, attends school in Cobb County. “If she was older, I would be really concerned. I know other districts have ways to make up the time online and Cobb does not. That’s a disadvantage to us.”

DeKalb County parent Lauren Taylor said her second-grader and his classmates were scheduled to undergo assessments before school was canceled. It was a nightmare last year, she said, when the district tried to reschedule winter assessments.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Taylor said. “Our kids are being denied any kind of education. We don’t have digital learning like some of the other school districts. I want them to make the days up so they don’t have to scramble like they did last year.”

Anything else, she said, “is a disservice to our kids.”