By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 19, 2018 | 2:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – Much of Southside Virginia and Central North Carolina are finally able to return to some sense of normalcy after a potent winter storm brought many communities to a standstill under a foot or more of snowfall.
According to data from the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, portions of Dinwiddie County received a foot or more of snow during last Sunday’s winter storm, with neighbors to the north in Chesterfield and west toward Amelia receiving similar or slightly more in some instances.
As snow coated the county’s roadways, the eventual freezing temperatures would create a dangerous combination for school buses, which resulted in school’s being closed for four days last week as the county and region worked to thaw out.
Prior to the storm’s arrival early last week, Dinwiddie County Public Schools spokesperson Christie Clarke explained the school division’s calendar is built in such a way to handle inclement weather closures like the one throughout last week.
“We build our calendar on instructional hours instead of school days,” Dinwiddie County Public Schools spokesperson Christie Clarke said in an interview ahead of the winter storm.
“There are specific state requirements for all three of our levels – high school, middle school, and elementary school,” she continued, adding, “We use the high school requirement of 990 hours of instructional time, which is the highest requirement.”
As a result, Clarke said DCPS’ calendar is built on “1,052 instructional hours, which is used across 178 school days.”
So far this school year, Dinwiddie students have missed five days due to inclement weather, four as a result of last week’s snowstorm and one due to the impacts of Hurricane Michael.
Parents are now questioning if this year’s early inclement weather impacts, well before the height of Virginia’s winter season will result in adjustments to the school division’s calendar like was seen last school year.
During the course of the 2017-2018 school year, prior to April of that school year, Dinwiddie County Public Schools had missed nine days due to inclement weather, with the first of those days beginning January 4 after a mid-week storm closed school for four days, then a second storm weeks later would close schools again for three more days.
Last school year, the school division initially decided to forgo making up the four days missed but, following the second January storm and additional three missed days, the school system converted a planned teacher workday and President’s Day into a full day of classes to make up for lost time.
In addition, a late March storm that school year would result in two more missed days, leading to student holiday also being converted into a regular day of school.
As of the time of this report, neither the school division or the Dinwiddie County School Board have made any announcement of plans to make up missed days or discussions of calendar adjustments. Prior to last week’s snowfall, Clarke said that evaluations are actively made following closures to determine the need to regain time.
“When planning program needs for our students, the calendar committee considers many variables to include inclement weather; therefore, additional time is built into the daily schedule to allow for unexpected school closures,” Clarke explained.
“When we do miss days,” she shared, “division leaders evaluate the necessity to make adjustments to the school calendar. This is done through working with school administrators and division directors, who collect feedback from teachers and staff as part of the process.”
Following recent storms, officials with the Virginia Department of Education have referred school divisions back to a memorandum issued by then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Steven Staples that reminds school divisions of the regulations that surround school calendars and make-up days.
In that memo, Staples reiterates that school systems are required to provide instruction “for a minimum of 180 days or 990 hours each school year.” Should a school division be unable to meet that requirement due to inclement weather or emergencies, “days missed must be made up in accordance with the formula outlined in the Code of Virginia,” which states “the school division must make up the first five days, and then make up one day for every two days missed in excess of the first five days missed by adding teaching days to the school calendar or extending the length of the school day.”
Staples continued, “School divisions may use instructional time built into the school calendar that exceeds the 990 instructional hour minimum or add time to the remaining days to offset the days missed,” which Dinwiddie has done by exceeding the 990-hour minimum and neighbors to the east in Prince George have done in building ten inclement weather or emergency closures into their calendar.
The memo adds that state code allows for the Virginia Board of Education “to waive the requirement that school divisions provide additional teaching days or teaching hours to compensate for school closings resulting from a declared state of emergency.” On Saturday, December 8, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of the approaching winter storm.
In order to receive this waiver, a school division would have to submit a request to the state board of education with “evidence of efforts that have been made by the school division to reschedule as many days as possible and certification by the division superintendent and chairman of the local school board that every reasonable effort for making up lost teaching days or teaching hours was exhausted before requesting a waiver of this requirement.”
Should a school division be denied a waiver, they would have to make up the lost time as detailed in state law.
Beginning December 20, students head home for winter break before returning to classes on January. As of this report, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the date of January 28, 2019, remain holidays for Dinwiddie students.