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Updated: Snow Storms Blow Away School Days

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Updated 2-16-2010
Schools across the nation have spent many more days than normal shuttered this winter because of powerful snowstorms that have paralyzed entire regions.

The snow closed schools part or all of last week in several major cities, including the District of Columbia, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Schools in Dallas and Fort Worth shut down after North Texas recorded an eye-popping 12.5 inches before daylight Friday, a record for the area.

Most schools in the Maryland and Virginia counties closest to the nation's capital have were closed all last week after record-breaking snowfall overwhelmed the capacity of governments to remove it quickly and shut down public transportation.

Despite valiant efforts over the weekend—including groups of citizens helping to shovel school grounds— more than a half dozen Washington-area school districts remained closed Tuesday, as school leaders worries about students walking on busy roads to school because many sidewalks remained impassable.

Schools in parts of Ohio, including Cincinnati, were closed Tuesday as more than eight inches of snow blanketed the area. The Cincinnati school district has used up all five of its built-in snow days because of today's closure. Further closures would mean cutting into spring break or extending the school year, a spokeswoman told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

In Maryland, longtime state superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick plans to ask the state board of education later this month to grant a statewide waiver of the 180-day school year requirement, said spokesman William Reinhard.

This is something Grasmick has done only once before in the nearly two decades she's been the state's top educator, but Reinhard said it has been an "unusual year." The entire state of Maryland experienced blizzard conditions last Wednesday, just days after a weekend storm that brought as much as three feet of snow to some parts of the state.

The possibility of waiving some school days is welcome news to the 142,000-student Montgomery County, Md. school district, where students have missed nine days of school this winter. The district's calendar only accounts for four days, said spokesman Dana Tofig in an interview Friday. The district re-opened Tuesday.

"When you have two blizzards hit you back to back, that is not something you can plan for or anticipate," he said. "An unplanned week of snow days in the middle of the school year does cause an interruption to school and to the learning process, but we feel like we have excellent teachers and they will work across all areas of the curriculum to get kids caught up as quickly as they can. We are looking forward to getting our kids back in school and back to learning."

William R. Hite, superintendent of the Prince George's County, Md. school system, said late Friday plans are underway to make the most of the remaining days of the school year. The district's spring break packets, which were to focus on the Census, will likely be revised to include more core-course content.

In addition, the district is reviewing Web-based materials to place online to help students catch up and boost areas where students may be lagging and is fine-tuning curriculum to make sure key concepts are emphasized for the balance of the year. In the past, Hite said, the district has also extended the school day or year to help make up for missed time—a possibility also this time. The district remained closed to students for a sixth consecutive day Tuesday because of safety concerns.

Despite missing 10 days of school because of snow since late December—seven of them in the last two weeks—Arlington, Va., schools have been working to make sure students still had some instruction. The district put up a "snow learning page" with activities for parents to do with their children. That site has received between 1,000 and 1,500 hits a day, said district spokeswoman Linda Erdos. In addition, the superintendent sent out daily operations updates as crews worked to clear schools.

In neighboring Alexandria, Va., superintendent Morton Sherman has been communicating with parents online via his blog. He posted a letter today saying the district will likely extend the time students spend in school for part of the spring to make up the time.

Northwest Arkansas has been pounded by snow this year, too, with many districts closed nearly 10 days so far because of the weather, Rose Ann Pearce of the Northwest Arkansas Times newspaper tells me.

Arkansas's education department has posted guidelines for its school districts, saying it will review requests for waivers from school districts that have missed more than 10 days of the required 178.

Districts are to submit requests to the education commissioner by March 1. Schools are encouraged to shorten spring break, change teacher-work days into student days and add days to the end of the school year as a way to make up lost time, according to the release it posted Thursday.

Schools in Louisville, Ky., closed two days last week and opened late on others because of the inclement weather. If school closes one more day, it will push the end of school past Memorial Day for the second year in a row and wreak havoc on scheduled high school graduations, reports Antoinette Konz of The Courier-Journal newspaper. In one eastern Kentucky school district, students have missed 21 days of school this year because of snow.

With more snow falling Friday in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi, more school closures are likely in the offing. We'll have more for you here and on edweek.org as school districts figure out how to deal with the time lost.

How have your school districts coped? Comment on this blog or send me an e-mail and let me know.
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Photo credits:
Top-Theresa Taylor of Washington, D.C., walks through a row of snowed-in school buses to start them up and warm up the engines, on Feb. 11, as Washington tried to get back to normal after heavy snow storms. Susan Walsh/AP

Bottom-Casey Woodfill, left, Sam Woodfill and Tyler Nix, right, slide downhill at Reservoir Park in Fort Wayne, Ind, on Feb. 10. Wednesday was the second day in a row that area schools were closed due to heavy snows. Samuel Hoffman/The Journal Gazette/AP

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