Several days this past month all 55 counties have had to close their schools because of weather and water problems, and in some cases that means they won’t be able to meet the goal of giving 180 days of classroom instruction.
West Virginia State School Superintendent Jim Phares was previously superintendent in Randolph County so dealing with winter weather to him is the norm. But for many counties this is an unusual school year.
“In Kanawha Valley, with the water issues this is way past normal,” Phares said. “Normally they make all their days up easily with days to spare. This year with the water crisis they’re not going to be able to do that.”
Phares says it is unusual to have weather that impacts the entire state the way it has this year, forcing counties to cancel school because of snow and extremely frigid temperatures.
“The issues with cold mainly deal with the equipment of transportation and also the safety issue of having small children out in subzero type weather particularly when you have wind chill factors involved,” he said.
“You know, you kind of have a perfect, I hate to use this word, but a perfect storm in this matter in that you had snow, in some areas significant levels of snow, and you didn’t have any melting conditions whatsoever and everything either had to be pushed or salted away,” he added.
Phares says most counties this year will probably not be able to meet the 180 days of instructional time.
But starting July first counties will have more flexibility to ensure students are in class the full number of days. The Legislature made changes during the 2013 session that requires counties to provide 180 days of instruction and expands the employment period for teachers from 43 to 48 weeks.
The law also requires counties to make up instructional time by lengthening the school day, scheduling classes on non-instructional days or extending the school calendar.
“The big picture is we wanted to give counties as much flexibility as possible when they built their calendars so that they would be deciding when their students are in school and Charleston wouldn’t be,” Phares said.
The law requires each county to conduct two public hearings before finalizing next year’s calendar. In the meantime counties can make up for some of the missed days this year by converting some that students traditionally have off to instructional time.