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State says snow days must be made up

Schools are told to find some way to adjust schedule

By Travis Andersen and Martin Finucane
Globe Staff / February 4, 2011

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School on Saturday? Canceling April vacation? Those are two of the grim options for making up snow days that the state’s education commissioner offered yesterday to local school officials.

Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in an e-mail to superintendents and charter school leaders that it was premature to grant any waivers to school systems for the rule that requires 180 days of instruction each school year.

“There is still time for districts that have had to close for multiple days to adjust their calendars to ensure that our students do not lose out on valuable learning time,’’ he said.

Besides holding classes on Saturdays, or canceling or shortening April vacation, Chester said, schools could consider canceling or shortening February vacation, converting professional development days into school days, keeping school open on Good Friday, or adding days in June after the scheduled end of school.

“Student learning time is a precious resource,’’ Chester said. “We recognize that rescheduling missed days mid-year may be inconvenient, but depending on when in the year the days are missed, school officials should be able to make the arrangements necessary to ensure that student learning time is not shortchanged.’’

Officials are required to schedule at least 185 days of school and operate the schools for at least 180 days. This winter’s fierce weather has led to a number of days when all classes were canceled.

Matthew Wilder, a spokesman for the Boston public schools, said in a phone interview that the system has had five snow days this year. Making up those days at the end of the school year has pushed the final day of classes to June 28, he said.

The teachers union contract does not allow for the extension of the school year past June 30, Wilder said, so the district will have to consider some of the options outlined in Chester’s letter if there are three or more additional snow cancellations.

“If we get to that point . . . everything will be on the table,’’ Wilder said.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said he is willing to discuss options with Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, if the need arises. He also did not rule out divine intervention.

“We could restore prayer in the schools and pray for no more snow,’’ he quipped. “I think that’s going to be our motto.’’

Officials at the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, could not be reached for comment.

Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said in a phone interview that charters can hold classes in July, but he was not aware of any schools considering that option. He has not heard any talk of canceling vacation time.

“My sense is that [charters] will extend the school year at the end of June,’’ he said. “That’s historically been the method people use to make up excess days.’’

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said in an e-mail that he is not aware of any districts that have canceled a vacation. “Many families have already invested in vacation plans, often unrefundably,’’ he said, adding that districts are currently looking at extending the school day.

He said that in addition to the 180-day requirement, districts are also concerned that snow days have hampered students’ ability to prepare for state MCAS testing. He said districts are lobbying for a one- or two-week delay to the start of testing to allow for more instruction time.

“Some of the tests cover material kids may not have covered yet, and with the loss of at least five days in most places already, they’d be at a disadvantage,’’ Koocher said. For districts with marginal scores, “this could be the difference between being taken over [by the state] or left alone to continue the improvement.’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com and Martin Finucane at mfinucane@globe.com.

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