As the state braces for the snowfall from the incoming nor’easter, many school districts have already used up all their scheduled snow days — and it’s not even winter yet.
State officials hope districts won’t be forced to cut into their spring or other scheduled breaks, but they say it’s too early to determine if they will be granting districts waivers to the state law that requires schools be open for 180 days each year.
“It’s just too premature to address that issue now,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said Wednesday as snow began to fall in downtown Hartford.
For many school officials, these back-to-back school closures are déjà vu. Last school year, about one-third of the school districts in the state exhausted their snow days following Tropical Storm Irene and an early snowstorm that left thousands without power for weeks.
The department wrote to districts at the time telling them they were going to wait and see how fierce or mild the winter was before determining if waivers would be necessary.
“Luckily, it was a mild winter. But we don’t know what it’s going to be like this year yet,” said Robert Rader, executive director of the state’s school board association.
As the state heads into this storm, the State Department of Education reports that about 45 school districts — or almost one-third — closed for five or more days from Hurricane Sandy.
Rader reports it is standard practice for the overwhelming majority of districts to build five or six snow days into their calendar.
“It snows in New England. This shouldn’t be a surprise. These hurricanes though, they are something districts are not used to,” he said.
Last year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the natural disasters the state faced were not enough to convince him to back down on the requirement.
“Children deserve a quality education regardless of the weather conditions,” he said.
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.
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.
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.