Area students are likely to face an extended school year thanks to cold and snow, unless new legislation under consideration by the Wisconsin State Senate Education Committee and State Assembly Committee on Education is approved and voted into law before the current legislative session ends in March.
The North Crawford, Seneca and Boscobel School Districts have used their available snow days. North Crawford is now short by three days of the 180 days required by state law. Seneca and Boscobel are each short by one day.
Each of the school’s board of supervisors will need to decide if they add days to the school year or if they cut time from the Easter break.
“Right now, I’m not suggesting we shorten the Easter break,” said North Crawford School District Administrator Dan Davies. “The kids need the break in April. They’re going stir crazy by then.”
North Crawford cancelled school five times due to the extreme cold, twice for snow, and once to allow students to attend the state volleyball championships in Madison.
If the board opts to extend the end of the school year and no additional cancellations are required, North Crawford students can expect the last day of school to fall on June 11.
Boscobel will probably extend their final day from June 3 to June 4.
In the event of additional cancellations, Seneca School District Superintendent Dave Boland said “We may add minutes or days, but that will be the board’s decision.”
Boland said that staff will be included in the conversation, since whatever the board chooses, it must not only satisfy the state requirements, but must also take into account the teaching contracts.
“We have sufficient hours of learning committed at the elementary and secondary levels, yet for further cancellations, we will have to add a day, likely in June, to the school schedule in order to compensate for each additional canceled day,” said Tom Woznicki, the Boscobel School District Superintendent.
Schools have to meet state requirements both in terms of days and in terms of hours spent in direct instruction.
These can produce varied results when a school loses a day. Prior to Monday’s snowstorm, while North Crawford was short by two days, they were only short two hours of their instructional requirement.
Wisconsin enacted the law stipulating both the number of days of school and the number of hours of direct instruction in 2009. Schools must schedule 180 days in the school year. Hours requirements are 437 hours of instruction in half-day kindergarten, 1,050 hours of instruction in grades K (full day) through 6, and 1,137 hours of instruction in grades 7 through 12.
Of the 180 scheduled days, five may be used for parent-teacher conferences and/or inclement weather.
Failure to comply with both requirements can result in withholding of state aid to school districts.
One exception that can occur to the day rule is if the governor cancels school. Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton did exactly that during the cold snap that also prompted area superintendents to cancel school, making the cancellation an “act of God’.
Governor Scott Walker did not make a similar call, so schools that have fallen behind on day or hour requirements must make them up.
The legislation currently under consideration by the Wisconsin State Senate Education Committee would eliminate the day requirements, but keep in place the hours requirements. SB 589 would also allow state aid for "interim sessions" and online courses scheduled during the summer by districts with year-round school calendars. It’s Assembly companion bill, AB749, is under consideration by the Wisconsin State Assembly Committee on Education, with a vote expected as early as Feb. 18.
If the bill is passed, the elimination of the 180-day requirement would be effective when Governor Scott Walker signs it, according to DPI spokesperson John Johnson. Other measures in the bill would take effect for the 2014-'15 school year.
“There is no law requiring schools to close due to cold, as far as I know,” said Stan Turben, North Crawford’s Transportation Director.
Turben used wind chill recommendations to make the call to cancel school. He noted 32 to 35 below zero wind chill can result in frostbite in about 10 to 15 minutes.
The worry isn’t about the kids being cold on the busses, according to Turben. The concern is exposure while waiting for the bus or while at school.
“We have four heaters on our big busses,” Turben said. “It used to just be two. I’ve had kids removing clothes because they were too warm. And I have kids that wear shorts year round.”