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Policy allows major changes to make up canceled days

By Mackenzie Mays, Staff writer

The Kanawha County Board of Education is warning parents ahead of time that if it is forced to cancel class for inclement weather or other reasons, the school year may last longer than ever before, and previously scheduled breaks could change.

A state policy passed last year that’s designed to help schools achieve the 180-day school year requirement now allows classes to last through June 30 in order to make up for snow days and other forced closures. Before, Kanawha County was only allowed to tack on an extra week of instruction, regardless of how many days were canceled during the school year.

Last year, Kanawha County School students missed a total of 17 days of instruction due to a harsh winter and the Freedom Industries chemical leak into the Elk River. However, students were only able to makeup five of those days -- with Kanawha County not permitted to extend the school year past May 23.

Another major change in Kanawha County’s time recovery policy, adopted in special session on Monday, allows the school board to tap into designated breaks, like Spring Break, which previously were not allowed to be altered.

“This is an early warning now. If you’re scheduling vacation and paying for trips and thinking they can’t be touched, that’s changed now,” said Kanawha County School Board President Robin Rector. “We want to honor that break because it’s an important time to have a break, but you never know with weather conditions what you might run into. So we’re being transparent so you hear about that now.”

All of the state’s county school boards are required to develop policies that allow more room to fit in 180 days of instruction -- part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s comprehensive education reform bill passed in 2013.

Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said, though, that if the school system is faced with tapping into its Spring Break, the board will work to make sure parents are notified as soon as possible.

“We have to be very cautious and reasonable about that,” Duerring said. “We’ll be cognizant and watch very closely to let parents know whether we’re going to have to take that or not.”

“It’s going to be much easier to get 180 days,” he said.

While Rector said she believes the system’s recent early August start dates provide more flexibility in the school calendar, board member Pete Thaw said it only hurts children and families.

Last year, Kanawha County Schools started class on Aug. 9, the earliest in its history. Students return to school this year on Monday.

“If we get to starting much earlier -- or even as early as we are -- we’re really impacting family vacations, we’re impacting the children’s summer, we’re impacting everything,” Thaw said. “There are lots of working people out there who are now unable to have family vacations because we’re taking up the month of August and a lot of June.” The board unanimously approved the policy on Monday, but Thaw said he will continue to fight early start dates.

“I want to be perfectly clear that while I voted for the policy, which I do favor, I do not favor these early start dates. I want the board to know that there will be no vote from me to start early next year,” Thaw said.

The board will meet in regular session no Aug. 19 at 6 p.m.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @MackenzieMays on Twitter.


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