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Growing snow days cause headaches

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

As snow days pile up for local school districts and concern grows among students about a shortened summer, district officials are working to balance safety issues with necessary instructional time.

Russ Tilford, director of pupil personnel for McCracken County Schools, said Superintendent Nancy Waldrop, the transportation director and other administrators drive bus routes to determine the status of roadways, especially in less-traveled, residential areas. He said district officials also monitor weather forecasts and the work of road crews.

"The most important thing is the safety of our students, so we always err on the side of caution when making the tough decisions about weather," he said

Officials adapt to each weather situation, and often bordering districts work together when assessing the regional situation. This winter has brought new challenges with the frequency of ice and snow and periods of extreme cold and sub-zero wind chills. McCracken County students have missed eight days, including today, due to weather, according to Tilford.

He said the district's goal of completing instruction by Memorial Day - Monday, May 26 - remains feasible because of built-in open days and an above average amount of instructional minutes per day. Schools throughout the district are in session an extra number of minutes per day, which amounts to additional days in school. Although schools have different start and end times for classes, the addition of days to the schedule would be applied districtwide.

Officials have added two days to the end of the semester, which was scheduled to end May 21 and will now end May 23. Two additional professional development days were added, and Presidents Day on Monday, Feb. 17, will no be a normal school day, Tilford said.

Troy Brock, director of pupil personnel for Paducah Public Schools, said district officials monitor weather reports and Superintendent Randy Greene and the director of transportation drive the roads before making a decision. He said the district is often one of the last in the area to cancel classes because officials want to confirm the severity of the weather.

Officials then notify families and staff members through the media and an internal call system. Paducah Public Schools have closed school seven days this year, counting today, due to weather-related issues.

Brock emphasized the top priority is the safety of students who wait outside for buses and the ability of bus drivers to navigate tricky routes. He said the frigid cold in early January posed the most difficult decision for district representatives but concern about frostbite for students waiting outside made the choice simple.

The city school board approved the change of Presidents Day to a normal school day during the last school board meeting. The district will have to add one or more days to the end of the year with the goals of completing the semester by May 29, according to Brock.

"The most important thing is to provide as much instructional time as possible to students," he said. "But the icing on the cake is the flexibility from having extra time in the bank."

Around the region, Graves County Schools has altered its calendar once to compensate for lost class time because of the weather. The district added five in-session days including one in January, Tuesday, Feb. 18; Monday, May 19; Wednesday, May 21, and Thursday, May 22. The district also now plans to be in session on Presidents Day, according to community relations director Paul Schaumburg.

He said because of the high number of snow days, the 10 days built in to the schedule have mostly been used and now days will be added to the end of the year. Graves students will be in school through the last week in May and possibly into June, depending on the weather throughout the month.

Russ Buchanan, public information officer with Marshall County Schools, said the district will use two built-in days in February and two in March and will delay the last day of school from May 22 to May 23.

Bob Wilson, director of pupil personnel for Ballard County Schools, said the district has used most of the predetermined weather days and will now have to extend the final day of the year set for May 23 into the next week.

David Dowdy, public information officer for Calloway County Schools, said the school has used seven of the nine built-in days but if weather continues to cause cancellations, the school year will have to be extended from its current end date on May 27.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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