Come summer, D.C. area students may pay the price for snow days

Washington area residents begin to shovel out from a historic snowfall, coping with power outages and treacherous road conditions -- and sometimes stopping for snowball fights.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 8, 2010

All Washington area school systems are expected to stay closed Monday, and with another snow wallop threatening to arrive Tuesday, it's not clear when they'll reopen.

Even before that latest storm hit, most had already used the extra time they build into their schedule for snow days, which means many school years will be extended into summer.

"Unfortunately, you can't control Mother Nature," said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for Montgomery County public schools, which stayed open only half a day Friday and will remain shut Monday and Tuesday. The coming closures will be the fifth and sixth snow days of the school year, sending the county over its limit and cutting summer vacation by two days.

"First things first is keeping kids safe," Tofig said.

The snow days have a cascade of repercussions. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria can't get those meals if they're not at school. Parents have to scramble for sitters. Summer plans might have to be modified. And in a high-stakes testing culture where every hour of preparation for state assessments can have deep consequences, days tacked onto the end of the school year don't pack the same payoff.

"Those are obvious concerns, and when you have the instruction breaking up, a snow day here, a class day here, a weekend, that kind of thing is not helpful," said Paul Regnier, a spokesman for Fairfax County public schools, which canceled school twice last week and will take another day off Monday.

Fairfax will hold school on Presidents' Day, has canceled a planned one-day April holiday and will extend the school year if it takes any more time off beyond Monday.

Regnier said that many teachers were communicating with their students using an online forum, but he added that is no substitute for class time.

In Prince George's County, schools dismissed early Friday and will not hold classes Monday, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said as he was shoveling out his own driveway Sunday.

"Anytime you lose class time, there's an impact to our ability to prepare kids," Hite said. He said that he plans to petition the Maryland Department of Education to consider pushing back statewide standardized tests a few days to allow school systems to recoup the lost instructional days.

In Loudoun County, schools have already taken off four days, and school is canceled for Monday and Tuesday.

There are no plans to extend the school year, schools spokesman Wayde B. Byard said.

Both Alexandria and Arlington County have canceled school Monday, and, because both have exceeded their planned snow days for the year, their school boards will have to decide how to make up the time, spokeswomen said.

Late Sunday, the District announced that schools will be closed Monday. Earlier Sunday, D.C. school officials said they intended to open, with a two-hour delay.

D.C. schools, alongside many urban school systems across the country, are typically reluctant to close in tough weather. Monday's planned closing would be the first full day's closing this school year.

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