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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
It’s every student’s wish to get a day off from school because of snow. But behind every school cancellation, there’s a lot of hard work, and eventually the time off needs to be made up somewhere.
The devastation of last week’s ice storm has already pushed the Washington County school calendar back nine days, with a possibility of additional make-up days added if the county gets more bad weather. The original last day of school was scheduled for May 19, but as of press time, the new date is June 3. Possible ways to make up those lost days of class time could be shortening spring break or even holding classes on Saturday.
“If it gets to that point, I want to make sure everything is on the table,” said Washington County School Superintendent Robert Stafford.
Each school year consists of 1,062 classroom hours as mandated by the state. The current school calendar has five snow days built into the schedule, but with a large amount of county residents currently without electricity, water or heat, it has become necessary to extend the school year.
Chad Willis is the director of pupil personnel with the Washington County Board of Education, and is in charge of the school calendar. He sees a few possibilities for making up snow days.
“We could do a make-up day on President’s Day,” said Willis. “That’s down as a professional development day. I don’t know about spring break, that’s up to the board of education. It would be nice if we could use two of those days.”
Stafford is hoping to get some good news from the state board of education, but with the commonwealth crippled by the storm, it will be a while before e-mail and telephone lines are back in service. Stafford is anxious to see what the state will allow Washington County to do as far as adjusting the calendar.
“In terms of our calendar, I think once things get back to normal, the state board can put their heads together and see what the options are,” added Stafford. “You always expect to miss five or six days, maybe eight, but we’re just getting to February and that’s a big month for missing school. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Stafford is the person who says whether or not school is canceled. He gets his information from James “Pogo” Mann, who is in charge of transportation for the school district. Mann gets reports from across the county and stays up late at night monitoring the weather. Around 5 a.m., he will call Stafford and give his recommendation for that day.
It is also a difficult decision to put the schools on a two-hour delay, partly because some students would arrive just 15 to 20 minutes before lunch, and there would be hardly any time to get their early classes in.
In addition to closing school because of bad road conditions, a shortage of water, heat and electricity can also come into play. Washington County High School is currently being used as a shelter for those who are waiting for their utilities to be restored.
Stafford added, “It might be that we have clear roads, but people may miss a few more days getting power.”
Willis and Stafford both agree that schools are places people turn to in time of need.
“Schools are natural places for people to go,” Stafford said. “We have facilities and showers, people know where it is and how to get there. We really have to give credit to the custodial staff. They have really stepped up and they have the knowledge and expertise to feed and transport hundreds of people. They have the certifications that the Red Cross requires to accomplish those tasks.”
While county residents try to clean up after the storm and wait for life to get back to normal, Stafford and Mann got out on Monday to survey the county.
“We got out and looked at bus routes and checked out debris, power lines and the condition of roads we run on,” Stafford said. “There’s been a lot of progress. I think in the next day or so, they’ll have quite a bit of it knocked out.”
Stafford says it’s hard to give an estimate as to how much longer Washington County schools will be out.
“I have no idea,” Stafford added. “The county is going to try to have a daily update on the condition of the county in terms of utilities, transportation and things of that nature. Once I hear from my administrators, we can make a decision on a day to day basis. Right now, the prudent thing to do is see what they can get done in the next day or two.”
Meanwhile, students in Washington County should enjoy these days off while they can, because they may end up paying for them in the months ahead.