Snow makeup days to extend school year

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Oconto Falls schools move last day to June 11

Warren Bluhm,

Oconto Falls Superintendent Dean Hess, right, explains the administration’s recommendation for snow makeup days while school board vice president Jan Stranz and president Ron Leja look on. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

As much as students may enjoy having an unexpected winter break, snow days at some point will start to infringe on summer.

Tuesday was the eighth day this season that classes were canceled in the Oconto Falls School District, and the school board took action Monday night to extend the school year further into June.

The 2018-19 academic year was originally scheduled to end with an early-release day Friday, June 7, but the board added a net total of three days to the calendar.

June 7 was expanded to a full day of classes, and the board added a full day on Monday, June 10, with that last, early-release day of school moved to Tuesday, June 11.

In addition, a professional development day — where teachers report for training and other activities without the students present — was moved from Tuesday, May 28, to June 12, with the day after Memorial Day turning into a class day.

The good news, Superintendent Dean Hess said, is that the school district calendar already had a “cushion” of 6.9 days of classes, more than the minimum required by state law.

The Legislature over the years has changed the minimum, which at one point was a firm 180 days of face time between students and their teachers, he said.

“It dropped down to 175 days, and then they went to the minutes concept,” Hess said, referring to the current law that requires a certain number of minutes of class time per year. “Our district never went down to 175; we’re at 177-ish, and then on top of that we go earlier and stay later each day, such that we have six-plus days built into our schedule.”

The 2018-19 school calendar was built with 177 class days and seven professional development days. The second semester also has two single vacation days, on Feb. 22 and March 8, both Fridays. The policy has been that the second and fourth snow days will be made up at the end of the year.

As of Monday night, before Tuesday’s snow day was declared, Oconto Falls was 18 minutes shy of the statutory requirement, and turning the half-day scheduled for June 7 into a full day would bring the district back into compliance, Hess said.

“We recognize that we have a storm brewing tonight, literally, and not only that we also recognize that we’ve been out of school seven days as of tonight, and it very well could be more than that here in the future,” he said.

Because it’s not quite the middle of February and this is Wisconsin, administrators recommended two more days of cushion and part of a third day in case more snow days occur before the end of winter.

After last year’s April 13-15 snowstorm caused unusually late snow days, Oconto Falls made up the lost minutes by extending the school day by a few minutes every day, which was not popular with families whose routine was disrupted, Hess said.

“It was hard on families, because a lot of families are pretty tight on getting kids dropped off and get to work and other things,” he said. “We had quite a few people who called and said, ‘Please don’t do this if you don’t have to.’”

With many family plans probably already set for the Feb. 22 and March 8 days off, administrators also didn’t want to cancel those three-day weekends at this late date.

“We just want to try to find some middle ground, ultimately honoring the education we’re providing our kids with also not honoring their education on the Fourth of July,” Hess said.

“There’s something to be said about honoring the contract that people thought they had to the end of the year, knowing that if there were too many (snow) days, they’d be added to the end of the school year, not taken out of things,” board vice president Jan Stranz added.

What if it turns out the rest of this winter is unusually mild and the extra makeup days are not needed?

“I’ve never had a teacher say to me, ‘Jeez, I’ve got all this extra time, I don’t know what to do with it,’” Hess said. “What I hear regularly is ‘Holy cow, there’s never enough time to try to get kids to learn all the things I want them to learn.’ So we’re trying to find some happy ground.”

“There was a time we made up every snow day, no matter what,” board president Ron Leja said.

“I think we’re just trying to find that middle ground between meeting the needs of our kids and not having kids revolt,” Hess said.