Irene and snow storm could extend school calendars

Between Tropical Storm Irene and last weekend’s winter storm that still has thousands without power, many school districts across the state have already used up all their scheduled snow days–and it’s not even winter yet.

“These districts are absolutely going to have to cut in the spring vacations or other breaks,” said Robert J. Rader, the head of the state’s school board association. He estimates one-third of the school districts across the state have exhausted all their inclement weather days, and will not be able to reach the 180-day school calendar requirement without extending their schedules.

“We are all well aware of the issue and the challenges,” said Mark Linabury, a spokesman for the State Department of Education, adding it is way too early to know if the state will need to relax the 180-day requirement. Almost half of the public schools in the state were still closed Tuesday and most districts only allow for about five days to cancel school for inclement weather.

“There may be an opportunity to revisit this,” he said.

Last school year, districts found themselves in a similar predicament following a harsh winter. After considering relaxing the 180-day requirement or granting waivers, legislators and the SDE decided against the change.

And it doesn’t seem that’s going to change this year either. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday these natural disasters were not enough to convince him to back down on the requirement.

“I am not in favor of changing the 180-day state requirement. Children deserve a quality education regardless of the weather conditions,” he said. “I hope on a system-by-system basis, or district-by-district basis, that each district will address this issue.”

But Malloy did leave the possibility that spring and summer breaks will not need to be cut into, mentioning longer school days to make up the difference could be a possibility.

“Changing vacation schedules, elongating days, cancelling other holidays, I think that’s a better way to assure the children of Connecticut get the quality education they so richly deserve,” he said.

Rader warns that all those options could be costly to local boards of educations, since some employee contracts forbid such initiatives without additional pay for the unionized workers.

“There’s going to be a budget impact,” he said.

Thirty other states besides Connecticut have the 180-school day requirement, with the remaining states allowing districts to have longer school days to meet the hours of instruction requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States.

“There’s no federal requirement whatsoever on the school calendar — this is a state decision 100 percent,” said Kathy Christie, the chief of staff for the non-partisan ECS, a education policy research group.

Christie said if Connecticut does change it’s mind and decide to relax this requirement, it would not be the first time a state has had to rethink their requirement because of natural disasters. Following Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana relaxed their requirements. Kentucky, Tennessee and Washington have also changed their laws in recent years as well.