January was the month without school for Kanawha and eight nearby counties in West Virginia. Bad storms from the worst winter in years in the United States and a chemical leak from Freedom Industries forced the cancellation of school day after day and week after week.
The bad news is students will not be able to make up all of those lost school days. School unions and others lobbied the Legislature decades ago to lock county school systems into school calendars that made it nearly impossible to get in the 180 days of school each year.
The good news is lawmakers recently gave locally elected school boards more power to schedule the school year as they see fit next year with minimal interference from the state. The dates to begin were set back and schools can hold classes as late as June 30 when the school budget year ends.
On top of that, lawmakers ended the requirement that a committee of teachers and administrators craft the schedule with teachers then voting on the calendar. Instead, the central office staff drafts the calendar and the school board votes on it after two public hearings.
That’s fair. Teachers still have input but just as much as the rest of the public has.
The Putnam County Board of Education likely will approve a schedule that begins Aug. 18 and ends on June 1. Built into the system are six days to make up any snow days.
But two snowstorms or a water crisis would easily wipe those days out quickly. The board reserved the power to extend the school year to June 30 if necessary. This is in response to a bad January.
Such flexibility means that the school superintendent can base the decision on a snow day on weather conditions without worrying as much about meeting the 180-day standard.
Putnam County’s American Federation of Teachers president, Angie Turkelson, said teachers are on board with the Aug. 18 start.
“After the snow this year what we found was that it was like you were constantly trying to reteach because you were gone so many days, and they’re not predicting snow for next winter,” Turkelson told the Daily Mail’s Kara Moore. “If we don’t have those snow days, we would have been out every Friday in March.”
This reform has been a long time in coming. But it means students will be more likely to get the 180 days of instruction that taxpayers already pay for, but rarely do counties meet that goal.