Children have recently enjoyed days full of sledding and snowball fights and no school. However, local school directors have had to keep close watch on how many more days schools can be closed because of the weather.
Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel said as of Friday the school system had been closed for nine days due to weather-related issues. This is two days beyond the seven it is allowed.
According to the Tennessee Board of Education’s “Minimum Requirements for the Approval of Public Schools,” schools can “adopt policies providing for individual schools to have school days of at least seven hours,” adding to the required six and a half-hour school day “in order to accumulate instructional time to be used for periodic early student dismissals for the purpose of faculty professional development.”
McDaniel said the Bradley County school system has been doing that for a while. With the stockpiled days, the Bradley County school system had 13 days it could be closed to students during the 2013-2014 school year.
However, teacher in-service or staff development days must be subtracted from those 13 days. That number is also the maximum allowed by the state board of education’s rules, which states “early dismissals shall not exceed the equivalent of 13 days.”
Four stockpiled staff development days had been on this year’s schedule, along with two additional in-service days that were granted under the state’s “Race to the Top” initiative. This left only seven days that could be used as “emergency days.”
“We exceeded our seven,” McDaniel said Friday.
While the school system plans to be closed for Presidents Day on Monday, the school system has canceled a “Race to the Top” in-service day for Tuesday.
Students will report Tuesday for a normal day of classes to make up for one of the recent snow days.
McDaniel said the school system is looking into a couple of options for taking care of the remaining day for which it needs to account.
On Feb. 12, Gov. Bill Haslam declared Tennessee to be in a level three state of emergency due to the snow that hit areas throughout the state.
McDaniel said school systems can petition the governor and ask him to “forgive” days of schools missed when the state is under a state of emergency.
He said the school system would have all its excess snow days taken care of if the governor grants the request he plans to make. If it is denied, the school system will have to find another day for the students to make up.
“If the waiver is not granted, we are looking at using the Monday after Easter,” McDaniel said.
Bradley County schools are currently scheduled to be closed on Friday, April 18, and Monday, April 21, for an Easter break.
According to the official schedule for the 2013-2014 year, the system had about 30 days worth of breaks scheduled during the school year, not including the Saturdays and Sundays when students would normally be out.
Those included a five-day fall break from Oct. 7 to 11, a three-day Thanksgiving break from Nov. 27 to 29, a 12 day of Christmas break between Dec. 21 to Jan. 8 and an upcoming five-day spring break lasting from March 24 to 28. Schools were also set to be closed on Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day.
Public schools are required to teach students 180 days per year.
Haslam would have to approve any request for a school system to not have to make up a snow day because the law says scheduled breaks and unexpected snow days are not allowed to interfere with the number of days students are supposed to be at school learning.
McDaniel stressed that a lot of consideration goes into deciding whether or not schools will be closed.
He said he regularly consults with the local emergency management agency and law enforcement officials before deciding when the weather should temporarily close schools.
In addition to the snow this semester, county schools had been closed at times for reasons other than snow on the ground.
McDaniel said some closures have been because of failing heating systems.
“I do that because I believe it’s in the best interest of the safety of our staff and students,” McDaniel said.
If more snow comes and the Bradley County school system does need to close for another day, he said school officials will begin to look at the feasibility of adding more days onto the end of the school year in May.
The scheduled spring break would likely remain in place, he added, because families often schedule vacations during that time each year.