State Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-105th District, Kewadin) recently co-sponsored a proposed temporary bill that would give schools more flexibility to deal with excessive snow days incurred this winter.
While MacMaster sought to save schools time and money by eliminating the need to make up days before summer break, some local educators say they’ll do fine without it.
“As a school who currently does this—we start at 8 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m.—we add an additional 40 minutes to our day. As a result we can shorten our school year by a full week,” said Concord Academy Boyne fourth-grade teacher Cinda Shumaker. “It makes sense for a year-long endeavor because it means a week less of busing and electrical expenses, which adds up to quite a bit.”
According to MacMaster, local school districts saddled with above normal snow days could have the option to lengthen their school day for the rest of the year instead of adding full days to their calendar in June.
Schools are currently required to hold school at least 170 days per year with 1,098 hours of instruction time. Under House Bill 4471, a district unable to meet its required number of days due to uncontrollable school closings before April 15 would only have to meet the requirement of hours, not days for this school year only.
“The severe winter weather we experienced this season led to many northern school districts racking up double-digit snow days to keep our children safe and that has put them below the minimum of instructional days,” said MacMaster in a press release issued early last week. “Making up that time in June could adversely affect parents’ daycare plans for their work schedules, summer vacations or activities already booked, and the local tourism that our communities’ economies rely on.”
He added, “I’m hoping to see quick passage of this legislation so schools have enough time to consider extending their remaining class days by 15 to 20 minutes or extending the school year by a week or so, whichever way works best for them locally to finish the school year and help reach the instructional time requirement.”
Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Moss said the fix might help some school districts meet their legal requirements but that his school had no need of it.
“We are not in a position to make up any days,” Moss said. “We already offer more school days than we did in 2009-10.”
Both Moss and Shumaker said adding a few minutes onto each day would do nothing to help the children’s education and would merely be a technicality for those schools who needed it.
“I appreciate the intent of Rep. MacMaster but the reality is that if districts only have to add a few more minutes to the day then what’s really accomplished?” Moss said. “Our contention is that it would not be enough time for a new lesson to be introduced.”
He added, “When you lose a full day you lose all those lessons … so, it is better to make it up.”
Shumaker said Concord’s system of longer days has allowed the school to shorten class time by a week, saving parents money on transportation and saving the school money on utilities.
“To make up a day’s content by merely adding a few minutes is virtually impossible,” she said. “Some schools may not be able to adjust their day as easily to this for many reasons. Adding a few minutes each day only satisfies the state’s requirements for seat time, time spent in class, and doesn’t do anything for the education of the child.”
Shumaker added, “One day behind can turn into a real mess and often turns into gaps of education, especially if it’s a full week of absence. Teachers will have to water down or eliminate content because they just don’t have the time to teach it. Adding a few minutes to each day, especially during the spring won’t be quality content nor will it equal a day’s worth of instruction.”
MacMaster said the proposed bill could save school districts $50,000 to $200,000, depending on school size and transportation costs.
“Eligible school closures listed in the measure are severe storms, fires, epidemics, utility power unavailability, water or sewer failure, or health conditions as defined by the city, county or state health authorities,” MacMaster said.