Prince William County Schools have saved spring break -- but students will get an extra 30 minutes in class to think about it.
The county, which clocked its 13th snow day Friday, will add 30 minutes to each school day beginning March 17. By adding the time and turning March 31, June 19 and June 20 into regular school days -- from a teacher work day and summer vacation days -- the county will be able to achieve the 180 days, or 990 hours of instruction, required by the state. The extra 30 minutes of school each day until the end of the year equals 31 hours, or five "days."
The weather "forced us to be creative," Superintendent Edward L. Kelly said, explaining the plan to the School Board, which approved it unanimously Wednesday.
"Let's just pray we don't get hammered by a late March blizzard," said School Board member Don Richardson (Gainesville).
Figuring out Kelly's proposal is like a lesson in logic -- a lesson snowbound county students probably haven't gotten to yet.
First, Virginia forgives school districts five days whenever more than 10 are lost because of bad weather. So instead of having to make up 13 days, Prince William only needs to worry about eight.
Four snow days were "built into" the school calendar, so that leaves four snow days to make up. Subtract the March 31 and June 19 teacher workdays, plus an extra day at the end of the school year June 20, and the county is left with one day that needs to be added somewhere.
That's where the extra half-hour comes in. With that time, the system will make up that day, plus have a few extra to use, if needed, between now and March 17.
Schools will have the option of how to work out the half-hour, but for middle and high school students, it will likely mean between fewer than 10 minutes added on to each class.
If the county has to miss many more days, it can apply to state for a waiver and not make up those days at all. But in that case, the school system has to show that it made a good effort to squeeze in as much work time as possible. In that case, the county would probably have to take the Memorial Day holiday.
But, for now, the week-long spring break April 14-18 will be preserved. Under the school system's old plan, part of the break would have been used, and the county still would have had to make up some days.
This solution "is one that gives the community and gives our staff and opportunity to take a big breath and relax," Kelly said.
The proposal is good news to Michelle Gonzalez, president of the Parent Teacher Organization for Parkside Middle School.
"I was relieved that they weren't going to take the spring break," Gonzalez said. "My kids aren't thrilled by it, but I think that's a reasonable solution."
Gonzalez didn't like the idea that under the first plan, teachers would have had to be in school during spring break, while their students might be on vacation. "They would be stuck teaching whatever remnants they have," Gonzalez said.
Steve Wolf, who has children at Henderson Elementary, Saunders Middle and Forest Park High schools, was also happy. Every spring break the family visits Florida; this year, they were considering an abbreviated trip.
"I think the teachers, the parents, the kids all look forward to that weekend," said Wolf, whose wife teaches at Beville Middle School. "And you've got to make plans well in advance. It's really difficult to do if you don't know if you can get a spring break year to year."
Daughter Tina, a 15-year-old sophomore at Forest Park, said she was "a little hesitant" about the plan. "But we're glad we got the spring break back," she said.
So was her 11-year-old sister, Julia, a fifth-grader at Henderson. "If we were going to be in school until August, I would have hated that," she said.