Putnam County Schools to extend calendar year

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By Lydia Nuzum

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam County Schools has exhausted its allotted number of make-up days for the current school year, after the recent chemical spill and harsh winter weather prompted extended school closings. 

The school system used its last make-up day Tuesday. According to Putnam County Schools superintendent Chuck Hatfield, he and other superintendents whose districts were affected by the chemical spill met in Charleston Friday with state superintendent Jim Phares. Hatfield said Phares indicated that he would re-evaluate the situation in March.

Schools in Putnam and several other counties are canceled Wednesday because of snow. 

The county was one of nine affected by the Jan. 9 chemical spill in the Elk River that contaminated the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians. Between the leak and two winter storms, the county has not held a week's worth of instructional days since the new semester began. 

The Putnam County Board of Education held its regular meeting via teleconference Tuesday, as weather did not permit a regular meeting at the board's headquarters in Winfield, Hatfield said. According to Hatfield, the school year for Putnam County students is now likely to be extended to June 12. 

Hatfield said the new school calendar system introduced in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill will likely allow for more flexibility when designing the school system's calendar year, but the law doesn't go into effect until next year. 

"There's some confusion -- people think we're already in the new calendar mode that was passed in the last legislative session," he said. "That actually does not start until next year, so we're still operating under the old calendar legislation, and I think that's why we're not seeing any recognized days from the governor yet. In a way, it really doesn't matter -- once you've used your days under the old calendar system, there aren't anymore to make up. You get what you get, so to speak." 

In an effort to bridge the gap, Putnam County Schools held class on Friday and provided bottled water and specialized lunch menus to its students. The school system had to cancel school for Buffalo Elementary School and Buffalo High School on Friday, however, after the "do not use" water ban was re-issued for the Buffalo, Frazier's Bottom and Pliny areas by West Virginia American Water. 

"That has been cleared now, and those schools have been re-flushed, all of the protocol has been followed, and the health department has re-inspected and cleared those facilities," Hatfield said. "All of our schools have now been cleared by the health department, but we are still providing bottled water at all of our schools."

Board member Sam Sentelle also encouraged his fellow board members to research West Virginia House Bill 4146, which would create no more than 27 unified school districts within the state, he said.

"The bill is on the Internet if anybody wants to look at it," Sentelle said. "I just wanted to relay that to everybody. It involves a recommendation to consolidate school districts so that there will be no more than 27."

The bill was introduced Jan. 14. The full text of the bill can be found by searching "4146" under 2014 Bills at