News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 10, 2014

School closures: Weeklong delay eats up ‘flex days’

Snow day waivers available for Monday, Tuesday; 1st in 6 years

INDIANAPOLIS — Jamie Boe and her three children have been stuck inside their suburban Indianapolis home with cabin fever because first the snow and then subzero temperatures forced the school district to cancel classes.

Five days after their community of Noblesville was buried in nearly a foot of snow, and with temperatures rebounding into the 40s, the Boe children still weren’t back in school Friday. And the two-week holiday break that had stretched to three was wearing thin.

“I personally have probably been less patient with all of my kids,” Boe said. “My kids love school, and they have been begging to go back.”

Poorly plowed roads still clogged with snow and ice are to blame for the extended break, along with snowbanks so high they are obscuring bus stops and making it hard for buses to navigate their routes.

The situation is frustrating parents and school officials, who must decide how to compensate for the lost days in the face of the state’s 180-school-day mandate.

School officials say it’s uncommon for Indiana students to miss an entire week of classes because of what amounts to routine weather in some parts of the country. Longer absences can occur when schools are damaged in storms, which happened when a tornado heavily damaged a southern Indiana high school in March 2012.

But this week’s break is unusual.

“It’s very, very rare, if you count (Friday), to have five days in a row where we couldn’t get to school,” Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

Now schools in the state must decide how to handle the missed days. Indiana requires students to attend school 180 days.

Some districts schedule “flex days” during the year to use as makeup days in cases of weather cancellations. State schools that were out this week have another option: applying for a waiver from the Department of Education that would excuse them from making up Monday and Tuesday, when the polar vortex sent temperatures plunging well below zero. The remaining days missed this week will still need to be made up.

Spokesman Daniel Altman said the Department of Education had received about 300 requests for waivers as of Friday.

The last time statewide waivers were offered was in 2007-2008, when winter storms struck, he said. It’s more common for Indiana to grant waivers on a smaller scale, such as in cases when schools have been hit by tornadoes.

Even with a waiver, some districts will have to tack on days at the end of the school year. The extended calendar could affect final exams and plans for graduation.

Another snow day in Noblesville and seniors might need to come to school the Saturday before graduation, an option the district has used before, public relations director Sharon Trisler said.

And it’s only January.

Indiana schools aren’t alone in their predicament. The 6,000-student Monroe Public Schools in far southeastern Michigan also canceled classes all week, and students in Michigan and Missouri have already used up their allotted six snow days.

Barry Martin, superintendent of the Monroe Public Schools, said it’s surprising to have already missed a week. He said he’s less worried about making up lost days than about getting students and teachers back in the academic swing of things after three weeks off.

Minnesota Department of Education spokesman Josh Collins said his agency doesn’t plan to adjust the state’s required number of school days for an academic year, which is 165.

Some die-hard Indiana school districts are determined not to waste a day of class. Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., about an hour south of Indianapolis, only used four of six allotted snow days and has no plans to apply for a waiver, Superintendent John Quick said.

“How many days did our students miss last year because of bad weather?” Quick sometimes asks community groups. “It’s a trick question because the answer is zero. We didn’t miss a day, we made it all up.”

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