Some intend to request exemptions from state so they won't have to alter calendars
February 11, 2010 10:00 AM
With their university closed, Point Park students play football on the lawn at Point State Park Wednesday afternoon.
By Eleanor Chute, Joe Smydo and Bill Schackner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
First, there's the gift of free time.
Then there's the reality check.
Just as lunch usually isn't free, snow days aren't usually free, either.
Some districts have begun to schedule make-up days, in keeping with plans already made to try to ensure a 180-day school year.
As the winter wears on, however, it remains to be seen whether there are enough possible make-up days without changing the last day of school or the graduation date in some districts. Some districts may seek waivers from the state so that they don't have to make up all of the days.
Pittsburgh Public Schools had one snow day on Jan. 8 and has had four this week. Many other districts are in the same situation.
Pittsburgh's teacher contract calls for 182 instructional days, so the first two snow days would not need to be made up. School now is scheduled to end on June 16, and the contract provides for the next two snow days to be made up on June 17 and 18.
After those four days, any remaining snow days would come out of the weeklong spring break, scheduled for the week of March 29, according to the district's contract with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.
However, district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh and PFT President John Tarka said they hope state officials will forgive at least some of this week's snow days because of the severity of the weather and the effects statewide.
If possible, Mr. Tarka said, he'd like to keep the spring break intact because some families and employees already have made plans for the time.
Some students -- including those in Bethel Park, Cornell, Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Hampton, Mt. Lebanon, Plum and Sto-Rox -- will be going to school on Monday as a snow makeup day, weather permitting, instead of having a Presidents' Day holiday.
Pine-Richland had enough extra days in its calendar that it didn't need to worry about make-up days until Wednesday. Now the day of the prom -- May 14 -- will be a school day. And with school cancelled again today, an additional date will have to be selected as well.
Pennsylvania law requires public school districts to provide 180 days of instruction by June 30.
In an e-mail, Michael Race, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said, "If they cannot do that due to weather, they can seek a waiver from PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education). Waivers are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and the secretary decides whether to grant them."
If school districts do not provide the full 180 days or receive a waiver, they lose a portion of their state subsidies.
But such waivers are not granted lightly.
For example, some advice to school districts posted on the department's website focuses on whether an exception can be made to allow a shorter year for seniors to accommodate graduation following "severe weather conditions that caused school closings."
The advice notes the education secretary must determine whether the district made a "bona fide" effort to make up the days.
Another department advisory relates to "emergency school closings" because of "contagious disease, natural disaster or other emergency." This advisory notes the state education secretary's discretion regarding subsidy payments.
On the Shaler Area School District website, Superintendent Donald Lee wrote that he has drafted a letter requesting a waiver.
He said the letter tells the department "about our school power outages, our road closures due to downed trees and power lines, our snow plows that had mechanical issues due to the heavy snow, the fact that hundreds had no power for several days."
Colleges and universities do not have the same time requirements as elementary and secondary schools.
None of the 14-state owned universities that canceled classes due to the storm are required to extend the academic calendar to compensate for missed days, said Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the State System of Higher Education.
He said faculty generally is expected to incorporate missed material into other classes that meet during the semester, though professors or the campuses on which they work could opt to hold extra classes in extreme cases.
At California University of Pennsylvania, where the storm and a resulting state of emergency declared in the borough led to canceled classes this week, students have been notified that the calendar will not be extended.
They also were told that previously scheduled events including honors convocation, spring break, reading day, finals week, undergraduate and graduate commencement will take place on the dates planned.