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Wintry mix puts school calendars in more flux

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

As the city and county remain blanketed by the latest round of winter storms, school administrators search for solutions to an unprecedented number of snow days.

Paducah Superintendent Randy Greene said district officials are considering options and will seek feedback from teachers, administrators and parents through the schools' site-based decision-making councils. The options include changing some Saturdays or vacation days, such as spring break set from March 31 to April 4 or Memorial Day on May 26, to instructional days or adding days to the end of the school year. The final day is currently set for May 29, so additional days could spill into June.

"We are going to get input for everyone involved because we know our families, teachers and staff have opinions," he said. "We are willing to listen to everybody."

The district extended the school day by 15 minutes to make up for lost time and meet the 1,062 statewide instructional hour requirement beginning on Feb. 24. The Kentucky Department of Education also mandates that students be in school for a minimum of 170 days.

City students have missed 13 days, including today, because of the weather. The district had four days banked into the schedule, one made up on Presidents Day and another three - May 27-29 previously added at the end of the year. The extended time added two additional days, one as a flexible date that will now be used to negate a missed day this week. The district only has to make up two days from the four missed this week, Greene said.

He said officials are optimistic that Paducah schools will reopen Friday. District buses will drive the alternate routes this afternoon to evaluate conditions, but Greene expressed some concern about the ice remaining on smaller roads and hills. If school is canceled Friday, the number of needed make-up days would increase to three days.

The district is set to make final decisions, which include possibly moving graduation currently set for May 31, within the next two to three weeks.

"We want our students back in school, but the first priority is ensuring that no one ever gets hurt," Greene said.

Russ Tilford, McCracken County director of pupil personnel, said the county system has missed 14 days, including today, which is more  than the 12 days missed during the 2009 ice storm. Six of those days will not need to be made up because their daily instructional time already exceeds the state requirement, another day was made up on Presidents Day, one built-in day is set for March 14, and the remaining days will be added to the end of the school calendar.

He said that would extend the last day of school from May 23 to the end of month, with the goal of finishing by May 30. The graduation date, which was approved by the board for May 23 and May 30 as a back-up date, also might have to be altered. Tilford said he plans to present the amended calendar during the March board meeting.

"Our priority is keeping our staff safe and sound," he said. "We are mindful that people have summer plans and athletics and want to finish as early as possible and do what's best for the kids."

In both the city and county school district, students will take the ACT originally scheduled for last Tuesday on March 18.

Another respite for Kentucky school districts could come from the state Legislature and several bills currently pending in the General Assembly. House Bill 410 was introduced on Feb. 19 and is currently in the House Education Committee. The bill would allow a local board of education to petition Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday to waive a maximum of 10 missed instruction days.

State Rep. Gerald Watkins, vice chairman of the Education Committee, said because the act declares an emergency because of the weather, it would apply to the current school year. The change wouldn't affect certified or classified staff members, who would have to make up all waived instructional days throughout academic activities or professional development.

Watkins said he hopes the potential legislation would be placed on next week's calendar and predicted it would pass.

"It's difficult to make up all these days, and this would add so much flexibility for school districts through a really tough, cold winter," he said. "I'm supportive of the bill because lawmakers need to help our schools out."

House Bill 219, introduced on Jan. 15 in the House Education Committee, and Senate Bill 149, introduced on Feb. 20 in the Senate Education Subcommittee, would both allow students to be in school during a regular or primary election day. To apply, no schools in the district can be used as a polling place. If passed, the bill would allow districts to add a make-up instructional day because of weather-related closures during the May 20 primary.

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

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