By LeeAnn Cain / Staff Writer
The recent bout of inclement weather has taken its toll on the school systems within the Tri-County. Nearly every school district has missed more than a week of school, and it is beginning to affect the dates for the last day of school.
The Corbin Independent School system has seen five missed days and one early release day, according to Superintendent Ed McNeel. These numbers are a bit lower than other schools in the Tri-County.
“We don’t have the backroads of county schools,” McNeel said. He also said that the Corbin school district has been fortunate in the distribution of storms, stating that “some storms go north, others go south” of Corbin.
As of now, the date for the last day of school for Corbin is still May 15, and the date for the high school graduation has not yet changed. However, McNeel said that if one more day is missed, the last day of school will have to move on into the next week. McNeel also said if Corbin misses any more days, they might start extending days to keep the last day of school around the same date.
Laurel County Schools have been less fortunate, with 11 days missed so far for inclement weather. According to Superintendent Doug Bennett, Laurel County schools have seven days “built in” due to extended school days. As of right now, the final day of school for Laurel County has moved from May 14 to May 21, but Bennett added the date could change once again if additional days are missed.
The Whitley County school district has missed 10 days so far, according to Superintendent Scott Paul, and he anticipates that more days will be missed. Paul was hesitant to declare a last day of school for this reason, but stated that there were no built-in days for winter weather in Whitley County. Paul said that they were considering turning a day off in March into an instructional day to help get in all of the necessary school days.
Paul noted that Whitley County was a large rural district with many backroads, and so buses often have alternate routes for dangerous roads.
The East Bernstadt Independent School district has missed 11 days so far, according to Superintendent Vicki Jones. Like Laurel County, East Bernstadt has seven built-in snow days, and once the winter weather is over Jones said their board of education will amend the calendar and submit it to the Kentucky Department of Education for approval.
The Williamsburg Independent School district has missed eight days so far, according to Superintendent Dennis Byrd. Byrd says that the projected last day of school falls in the last week of May this year, and that graduation is currently set for May 25.
Knox County has been most affected by the weather, with 18 full days missed and one early release day, according to Director of Public Relations for the Knox County school system Frank Shelton. Shelton said he fully expected more days to be missed due to inclement weather, and the Knox County schools have about eight built-in days. As of right now, the last day of school for Knox County is June 6.
Determining school days
Each school has to have a fixed number of instructional days that last about six hours. According to state law, the minimum number of instructional days is 175. The total instructional hours must be 1,062 hours as mandated by the state, and instructional days are determined by that hourly requirement. These days vary with the school district, but fall in the 170 range for each school system in the Tri-County.
According to Paul, the state sets the parameters for these days and the schools operate within those parameters.
Individual schools cannot be closed in a district because it would cause serious problems for staff and students, who have separate calendars, according to Paul. Bennett said that as middle and high schools students live all over the district, elementary school students would be the only beneficiaries of this.
According to Bennett, Laurel County schools determine snow days by the staff. Bennett said that staff, including himself, will go out at 4 a.m. to check road conditions on days of questionable weather in addition to contact with local weather services.
Shelton said that some days Knox County schools will have a “Plan B day” when buses only run on roads deemed safe. Students who live on roads deemed unsafe are excused that day for their absence. However, this “Plan B” is only used when small numbers of students would be unable to attend school.
Most officials agreed that calling off school due to inclement weather is a “judgement call.”
Different districts have different methods for offsetting days missed due to inclement weather. For example, Laurel County and Knox County schools have built-in days that come from adding a few minutes to each regular school day.
Paul stated that Whitley County used to have built in days, but they no longer use this system because it caused complications for staff and student calendars. He added that the school year calendar was highly complex, and so each day missed simply had to be made up.
Shelton stated that there is a provision in state law where any school that misses more than 20 days can apply for “disaster days” with the Kentucky Department of Education. However, those days are only approved after the district has scheduled to make up at least the first 20 days missed.