Waivers might spare school districts from making up all snow days

As school boards puzzle through how to make up all of the instructional time lost to snow days, there could be an option more appealing than shrinking spring break or summer vacation — a state waiver.

Virginia law requires public schools to provide at least 180 days or 990 hours of instructional time. But it also allows the state Board of Education to waive the requirement if districts shut down in the aftermath of a state of emergency declared by the governor.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Tuesday did declare a state of emergency to spur agencies to prepare for winter storm that by Thursday had covered parts of Northern Virginia with more than a foot of snow.

Phil Kavits, a spokesman for Prince William County schools, said he believes a waiver is something that the county school board could consider. The district has called 10 snow days, and needs to make up nearly three school days’ worth of instructional hours.

Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Education Department said that such a waiver request would not automatically be granted. School districts “really do have to come and make a case...[and] to show they have done everything reasonable that they could do” to make up the time, he said.

Fairfax County Public schools was granted a waiver from the requirement in 2010 following “Snowmagedden.” The district needed to schedule five make-up days, but only found time for four in the spring calendar. The board waived the requirement for the fifth make up day.

The same year, the Maryland State Board of Education allowed districts to apply for waivers from the required minimum days they had to provide instruction. Montgomery County was among those that were granted a waiver.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education, said it’s conceivable that similar requests would be considered again this year, though it’s not a decision that would be made before the snow melts.

“It’s not something that the board takes lightly,” he said. “They very much believe 180 days is the minimum that students should be in class.”

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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