State school board approves make-up day waiver process
By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer, Charleston Gazette
County school districts may be allowed to make up fewer days after snow-day cancellations under a waiver process approved 6-1 by the West Virginia Board of Education Wednesday.
Until April 1, school districts will be able to ask the state school board for permission to not make up school days that were canceled due to states of emergency, according to Heather Hutchens, general counsel for the state Department of Education. Hutchens said they could also ask to use accrued instructional time to make up missed days.
The board plans to approve any waivers at its April 8 meeting. Hutchens said the Department of Education suggested the waiver process in case the Legislature does not pass a pending bill (SB537) that would offer similar exemptions.
Accrued instructional time — minutes counties build up by having students in classrooms longer each day than the state-set minimum required educational time — can currently only be used to compensate for teaching time missed for school delays, early dismissals and faculty senate meetings, Hutchens said. That time can’t be used to make up entire days.
She said the state school board will have to approve waiver requests for each school district that applies based on whether they can show that they in “good faith” tried to build a calendar preparing for possible missed days and have exhausted almost all other options.
Preliminary numbers of canceled days this year reported to the Department of Education range from seven in counties like Kanawha and Putnam to 18 in Barbour and Calhoun. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared most recently declared a state of emergency last week because of snow and flooding.
Officials used an example of how a waiver could help Barbour — which, even with the waiver, will still likely have to hold school through June 11, 10 days following its original end date.
Board members Bill White and Tina Combs did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Wade Linger was the only one to vote against the new waiver process, saying the move seemed to be a departure from Senate Bill 359 — which passed in 2013 and required for the first time this school year that counties have a minimum 180 separate instructional days.
“Are we backing down from 180 days, is that what we’re doing?” Linger asked.
“Kind of feels like we’re doing that, doesn’t it?” said fellow member Lloyd Jackson, who voted in favor of the waiver.
Beverly Kingery, who was appointed to the board in January, said she wouldn’t approve the waiver request from a county that only missed five days, but would consider giving a break to a district that historically managed its calendar well.
“We’re just approving the process, and then we have to take the lead,” Kingery said.
State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said districts can add days up to June 30 — the end of the fiscal year — but noted that going that far could mean interfering with vacations and other events planned by school employees and students.
“When you say that we’re going into June, you’re then disrupting family time,” he said.
But he stressed that, regardless of the waiver possibility, he wants school districts to understand the importance of planning for 180 separate instructional days. With the requirement being new this school year, he said some districts may not have been prepared for it.
In December, the board approved a pilot program that could also help alleviate school cancellation problems by allowing some districts to count out-of-class teaching days — like students receiving instruction online during a snow day — toward their 180-day requirement.