By Mackenzie Mays
The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the recent water crisis, and snow days piling up, most Kanawha County students' last day will now be May 23 -- a week longer than originally planned, and the latest the school year can legally extend.
"If we have any more snow days, we'll be in trouble," Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said Tuesday. School was canceled Tuesday because of snow, following six days without school because a chemical leak in the Elk River made water in homes and schools unsafe to drink or wash with.
Kanawha County students have attended class only three days -- one of which began on a two-hour delay -- since they returned to school following a nine-day holiday break in early January.
Teachers and parents worried on Tuesday of more snow days to come through the winter. As of Tuesday evening, more than 30 counties had already canceled school or called a two-hour delay for Wednesday because of snow and expected near-zero temperatures. Those include Kanawha, where officials decided shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday to close schools Wednesday.
If Kanawha County has to cancel school for any reason from now until the end of the year, it will have to cut into the required 180 days of instruction for students in order to make it up.
"Our teachers are qualified and know how to pace the curriculum. We'll work through this," Duerring said. "We've moved things around. There will be time along the way to make up for those lost instructional days."
Those changes to the calendar will make up for the missed days. Early-dismissal days for students -- which were scheduled for Jan. 29, Feb. 26, March 26, April 10 and May 16 -- have been canceled.
Students also now will attend class on Feb. 17, April 11 and May 16, which were originally planned as Instructional Support and Enhancement days for teachers.
While school officials impacted by the water contamination have hoped that the state Department of Education would exempt the six days lost, citing it as a result of a federal disaster, Duerring said whether or not those days are exempt won't make a difference in Kanawha County.
That's because the system is allotted an extra week -- May 19-23 -- to make up for any time that school had to be canceled during the school year. For Kanawha County, the school year, by law, cannot exceed May 23.
"We can't go past a certain day. That's just it -- because of the snow days we've already had, we're making them up anyhow. So you call it a snow day or whatever you want, but we're already there," Duerring said.
But next year, because of a new school calendar policy in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill, that might not be the case.
The new calendar bill would give school districts more control when designing their calendar, while also more strictly enforcing that 180-day recommendation.
"This year, you still have those bookends where you can't go beyond a certain day. Next year, it will be different," Duerring said. "Next year you could go clear to June 30 and can make up every day you missed."
County boards will be required not only to schedule but "actually provide" no less than 180 separate days of instruction, according to the bill. If it is not possible to complete 180 days within the current school calendar, the board is required to either schedule instruction on any available noninstructional day or use out-of-calendar days.
The bill also extends the length of the allowed school employment term.
"Counties have always scheduled 180 days. It's the feasibility of really making that happen when you have serious snow or unforeseen circumstances like the water crisis," state Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said.