CHARLES TOWN – Thanks to snow, extreme cold and other challenges, neither Jefferson County nor any of the state’s 54 other school systems will manage to get in the required 180 days of instruction before students start summer break in June.
But thanks to a change by the Legislature, the 2014-15 school year will be a different story, with students able to stay in class through June 30 to get in the required instructional time.
This year, Hancock County – with nine snow days – came closest to the 180-day mark, according to Christine Galusha, a spokeswoman with the West Virginia Department of Education.
Jefferson County recorded 17 snow days this year, school system spokeswoman Gail Woods said.
The state has long mandated 180 instructional days for students but also limited how late in June school systems could keep students in class. This year, Jefferson County and other school systems built into the calendar just eight makeup days.
Letting school systems extend the school year into late June is the latest in a trend toward giving counties more flexibility in determining how the school year is structured.
After the 2009-10 school year when none of West Virginia’s 55 counties hit the 180-day target, state lawmakers began to loosen some of the rigid rules regarding how snow days could be made up.
School systems, for instance, could begin the school year earlier in August and build in more makeup days.
For the 2014-15 school year, Jefferson County students will start school Aug. 18 and wrap up the school year by June 25. Depending on how many snow days keep students out of class next winter, students could be finished as early as June 3.
Two slightly different versions of the 2014-15 calendar are available for review at boe.jeff.k12.wv.us, and Woods said community members, parents and others have until 2 p.m. Thursday to weigh in on their preference.
“The major differences are that on one calendar, [employees start] August 12 and on the other August 13,” Woods said. “On the one calendar, there is a whole week for Thanksgiving and on the other there are two days for Thanksgiving.”
The news that none of West Virginia’s school systems made the 180-day mandate came in response to a reporter’s inquiry. Galusha said the official county-by-county report breaking down how many days were missed this year won’t be released until mid-May.
Students in Kanawha County and other areas affected by the January chemical spill into the Elk River missed school not only with snowy weather but also because of safe water issues.
In Jefferson and other counties, extreme cold and high winds – and not just snow – prompted school to be cancelled. To allow students to make up as much instructional time as possible, Jefferson County school board members last month converted time originally designated as Outside School Environment days and for other tasks into standard instruction time.
Students this year would have ended the school year in early June if there had not been so much bad weather. Now students’ summer break will start June 12. Classes that day will be dismissed two hours early to allow for Faculty Senate meetings.
Late last year, West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin explained the move to give local school systems more say in setting up the school calendar: “Transitioning more authority to local school systems is a natural progression in our journey to improve student achievement. Counties and schools know what is best for their students and setting a calendar is an integral part of the process.”