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Snow day use causes makeup concerns

CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Even with snow days piling up like grey slush along the highway, many West Virginia school systems cannot send students to class during spring break, no matter how much they want or need to.Heather Deskins, the state education department's general counsel, said many counties build their spring breaks with "out-of-calendar days." The off days are not technically part of the school year and teachers are not under contract for them.Kanawha and Putnam schools, for instance, made all five days of spring break out-of-calendar days.But some counties, like Barbour and Hampshire, build all or part of their spring break with "outside school environment" days, which can be converted to full instructional days if the school system racks up snow days.Ronald Kittle, Barbour schools' assistant superintendent, said his county has missed 12 days for snow this year but will only be able to make up six.Four of those makeup days will be during spring break. Students will stay home the Friday before and the Monday after Easter, though. Those are out-of-calendar days.Assistant State Superintendent Joe Panetta said the state recommends school systems build their spring breaks with out-of-calendar days, however.Counties can make up snow days during spring break but "then you get the complaints from the parents who scheduled vacations," Panetta said.Kittle said he hasn't had any complaints about spring break this year."Fortunately for us this year, we had already hit our seventh (missed) day early in January. As soon as we hit that we knew we were going to be rescheduled those days in April," he said. "At this point in time I have not seen a lot of people requesting educational leave. I imagine most people got the message." Kittle said things get a little trickier when spring break is still in limbo in March."Some years like that, we have people who already have made plans," he said.School systems that make up snow days during spring break don't get any closer to achieving the state's required 180-instructional days, however.All school systems' must schedule six "outside school environment" days, and at least four them must be penciled in after March 1 for the purpose of making up snow days. Most counties tack those make-up days onto the end of the school year.Panetta said the education department requires counties that frequently miss the required 180-instructional-day mark to schedule eight make-up days after March 1.
Deskins said school systems can add extra days to teachers' contracts, potentially allowing the counties to bring students and teachers back during Spring Break. Contracts cannot be altered mid-year, though, so a school system would have to schedule the extra days at the beginning of the year, she said. The school systems also would have to pay teachers for the extra days out of their general budget.Otherwise, counties have a finite number of opportunities to make up snow days. Teachers are hired on 200-day, 43-week contracts.Kittle said Barbour County schedules its make-up days during spring break so students will have plenty of instructional days before the Westest in May."This way, we take the Westest, we're at school a week and we're done," he said.Kanawha County Schools have missed eight days for snow this year, including last Thursday.
"I hope that was our last snow day. We've got to have relief," Kanawha superintendent Ron Duerring said.Duerring said the county only has five make-up days available. Students will now attend school until June 6. Teachers will end their school year June 8.Last year, then-State Superintendent Steve Paine gave counties permission to bring students to school on "instructional support and enhancement," or "ISE," days. That allowed students to make up nearly every day they missed last winter.The education department already counts ISE days as instructional days, so going to school then wouldn't get the county any closer to 180 days. Duerring said that's not important, though."I don't care whether the days count or not, the kids getting their instruction," he said. "It'll keep kids in the classroom and instruction continuing."Duerring said the state education department has not received permission this year to convert the ISE days."We've not gotten that permission yet," he said. "We've not received any official notice." He said the county has canceled all its early-dismissal days for the rest of the year, however, allowing students to make up eight instructional hours.Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or"> 
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