Winter storms have schools adjusting to multiple days off

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:33 am on Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Joannah Sheldon of Winfield Township says she works on teaching her six children how to get along with each other when they are stuck at home for multiple snow days away from school. “Being confined in close quarters results in a lot of sibling fighting, but I try to remember it’s a good opportunity for character development and helping them learn how to work through their differences,” she said. Above, the Sheldon siblings play a game of charades to pass the time on a snow day Tuesday. From left to right, Abel, 5, David, 8, Marlin, 4, and Elizabeth, 11, guess what object Renee, 10, is acting out. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

Local schools have taken up to 10 snow days so far this winter … and they’re not out of the (snowy) woods yet.

Belding, Central Montcalm, Lakeview and Montabella schools have each taken 10 snow days, while Carson City-Crystal, Greenville, Tri County and Vestaburg have each taken nine snow days. The most recent of those snow days were Monday, Tuesday and today.

Michigan schools are allowed to cancel six days before schools are required to make up the time, according to state law. A new state law passed last year for this current school year allows schools to extend the length of school days due to snow days instead of adding days to the end of the school year in June.

Lakeview Community Schools Superintendent Kyle Hamlin said his district’s snow days date back to Nov. 26, meaning the district has been dealing with snow day issues for more than two months now.

And considering that February is looming around the corner, Hamlin doesn’t think the last of the snow days are over. He said more than likely, school officials will have to add school days starting on June 9.

“The snow days impacted the second marking period dramatically, which required teachers to modify lessons to ensure they are covering the most important topics prior to giving final exams,” Hamlin said. “Our new semester was scheduled to begin this week, so we have already lost two instructional days in the third marking period.”

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Sheldon, 11, reads “Jo’s Boys” by Louisa May Alcott on Tuesday. Reading is one of Lizzie’s favorite ways to spend a snow day when she’s not doing schoolwork.

Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Pete Haines said this winter is comparable to the winter of 2006-2007, as well as several years in the 1970s.

Greenville students have yet to finish the last of their semester exams, which were originally scheduled for last Friday. Haines said he and his staff have not yet decided how to adjust their calendar.

“We typically wait until we are past the heaviest winter months before adjusting, though this year’s calendar was designed with potential extra days at the end,” he said.

Haines said he and his staff are “concerned” about the disruption brought about by snow days, but they simply cannot risk the safety of students.

“With extremely cold temperatures and wind chill, not only is short-term exposure a concern, but we find that salt is ineffective on icy roads, parking lots and sidewalks,” he said. “Children walking to school or waiting at bus stops are our primary concern.”

Belding Area Schools Superintendent Sara Shriver said she and her staff have not yet discussed how to make up the snow days, and they are fully aware there is a good possibility of even more snow days on the way.

“I know that both staff and students enjoyed having a couple extra days off, but many have expressed they are truly ready to be back full-time,” she said. “Although the staff have lost some valuable core instruction time with the students, they have been wonderful in adjusting lesson plans and exams as needed to ensure students are receiving quality instruction.

“Old Man Winter is on the top of my naughty list this month,” added Shriver humorously.

Carson City-Crystal Area Schools Superintendent Kevin Murphy said school exams were completed last week, which helped. He said school officials are examining ways to meet state requirements for days in session, including looking at adding days on Good Friday, the Friday before Memorial Day or the week of June 2.

“Also, the governor (Rick Snyder) might lend a helping hand,” added Murphy hopefully.

Vestaburg Community School Superintendent Jeff Beal said he will assess the number of missed school days by the end of February to determine an end date to the school year.

Renee Sheldon, 10, plays with her iPod on a snow day Tuesday.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet,” he said. “The way this winter is shaping up, every couple of weeks another storm puts strain on the system and creates concerns for transporting children. Given the winter we’re having, it is safe to assume we will be extending our school year.

“I would rather add a day to the end of the year than put students in harm’s way because of the weather,” Beal added.

Montabella Community Schools Superintendent Shelly Millis said her district’s first semester was supposed to end on Jan. 16, but got delayed until Jan. 23 due to snow days. While state law requires all schools have 170 days of student instruction, Montabella budgeted 172 days into the district’s calendar, allowing them two flex days for weather-related issues.

“We will wait until the end of winter to determine the total number of days that need to be added on,” Millis said.

Tri County Area Schools Superintendent Al Cumings says it’s safe to assume more snow days are in the forecast. He said typically in April, the school board will hear a presentation about the number of snow days to date and will vote to set a new school year end date.

“The challenge is that this affects other schedules, such as exams, report cards and the start to the second semester,” he said. “We are working to make these adjustments to help our staff and students with the work that needs to be completed.

“It’s been a tough winter so far,” Cumings added.

Central Montcalm Public School Superintendent Kristi Teall is meeting with her teachers this week to start talking about what to do to make up the snow days.

“Unfortunately, the winter is young and we have two more months of it left,” Teall said.

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