By Katie Kuba, Upshur Bureau Chief
BUCKHANNON - Upshur County Board of Education members and school system administrators continued to answer citizens' questions about the proposed sample calendars for the 2014-2015 school year - while also raising some questions of their own - during a public hearing Tuesday.
The calendars - which are posted on the school system's website, www.upshurcountyschools.com - were created to comply with a new West Virginia Board of Education policy, which was adopted in December 2013. That policy is based on Senate Bill 359, Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Roy Wager said at the second of two mandatory hearings, which took place during the BOE's regular meeting Tuesday at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.
The major change introduced by the legislation and its corresponding state BOE policy is that students must log 180 days of instructional time "no matter how long it takes us up until June 30," Wager said.
Another key aspect of the policy is the expansion of the number of weeks within which to log those 180 days, from 43 to 48, Wager said. Schools are also required to make up for late starts, such as two-hour delays.
Wager said Upshur County school system officials are working in conjunction with school administrators in Barbour and Lewis counties to develop a similar calendar since all three counties have students enrolled in the Fred Eberle Technical Center in Buckhannon.
"What we're looking at is the possibility of starting the calendar a week to a week-and-a-half earlier than we have this year in order to give us some days in August so that we can hopefully end the semester by Christmas and then school will end around the first week of June," Wager said. "And that way, if we need to extend the calendar, we have the days in June to make up those (missed) days."
Six out-of-calendar days and four continuing education days are built into the school calendar; those days may be used to make up instructional days missed due to inclement weather, Wager said.
However, if the area experiences "another winter like this one, where we miss 21 or more days," makeup days will be added onto the calendar in June to achieve 180 instructional days.
"The possibility, according to the law, is we could go to school until June 30," the superintendent said. "The Legislature is very adamant that every county in the state will get 180 days of instruction in."
Upshur school administrators are trying to preserve a traditional calendar, meaning students would still have the week of Thanksgiving off as well as a Christmas vacation and a weeklong spring break, the superintendent added.
Following an overview of the proposed calendars, Wager welcomed questions and concerns from the public.
Kimberly Grall, a parent whose children attend Buckhannon Academy Elementary, said she was worried about how the new calendar could affect summer vacations.
"I'm just concerned with what's going to happen with our vacations that we're going to have in August," Grall said. "Do you think the children stand a chance of a better education if they could get their 180 days in?"
"I could debate that both ways probably," Wager replied. "And somebody said to me, 'whatever made 180 days the Golden Rule? Why don't we have 200 days of instruction?'"
Grall said she was also concerned about the functionality of air conditioning units in early August. Wager said the school system hopes to "stay on top of that."
"Is it going to be perfect everywhere? No," he said. "It's just like the heat in the winter. Sometimes you have a heating unit go down and you have to repair them."
Board Vice President Alan Suder asked if extending the school day was a possibility.
"We could do that," Wager said. "You still have to go 180 days, whether you do a six-hour school day or a seven-hour school day, so that's another way to get minutes in, but you still have to go 180 days."
Grall said while she does not support extended school days, she likes the idea of shaving some days off students' breaks.
"I'm not a big supporter of extending the school day long and I'm also not a big supporter of where some (students) have had to go on Saturdays in other states, but what I am a supporter maybe of is the spring break, the Thanksgiving break and the Christmas break does it have to be as many days as it has originally been? Can we shorten those times?"
Wager said that's one possibility.
He went on to say there are many unanswered questions the new policy raises.
"For instance you cannot do extracurricular activities during instructional time," he said. "That means you can't have the circus come in and do a performance for the kids during the school day. You know, we have sporting events, and my question to the state Department (of Education) was what happens when our football team has to travel to Lincoln County, which is over three hours away, for a 7 p.m. football game, and they've got to be there in plenty of time to get warmed up, dressed up, so they have to leave the school early? Well, that's not a curricular trip, so what happens to the time they lost there? How do we make that up? We're not really getting all the answers yet."
In other business, Brushy Fork area resident Verlin Tenney addressed the board about a number of issues with which he's displeased, even calling for their resignations at one point. Tenney said he was unhappy with the way the board is treating "the handicapped people the senior people and those with respiratory diseases."
"There's no way they can get out and vote when there's snow 2 feet deep or 2 inches or what not, and it's real cold," Tenney said, referring to the Feb. 8 special levy election. He also alleged that the board "made small changes" to levy documents after the levy passed by 439 votes.
"That was not legal," he said.
Wager denied the allegations.
"As it was written and as it was put into the ballot, was exactly what the board voted," Wager responded. "We can't change it after it's voted on."
Tenney urged the board to make the levy's passage "null and void" and run it again in conjunction with the May 13 primary. He said the board had deprived elderly people and disabled people the opportunity to vote in the special election.
"With what all's happened, I think it would be right for all of you to resign," he said. "Every one of you because it's not right what you're doing. When you take the right of the old people, the crippled people, and those with respiratory diseases, when you take their right to vote away from them, that's the end of it."