School leaders talk calendars, snow days after wintry blast

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 29, 2020 | 1:30 p.m.

VIRGINIA – Plenty of students, and maybe even a few teachers, may have been doing a snow dance or other lighthearted ritual in the hopes of nabbing a three-day weekend as snow fell across much of Southern Virginia and Hampton Roads last Thursday evening and for some, those wishes were granted.

Late last week, the weather system moved through the region, bringing with it plenty of snow to give much of the southern half of the Commonwealth a coating that served to provide some relief to snow lovers as much of the winter season had been relatively sparse when it comes to frozen precipitation.

Snow began falling across Southside Virginia during the early afternoon last Thursday, largely accumulating grassy surfaces. Heeding earlier weather reports, a number of Southside Va. school districts opted to cancel after-school activities.

That caution didn’t just translate to school divisions as a rural broadband roundtable discussion featuring Congressman Donald McEachin (VA-04), Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and a number of local and state officials was wrapped early to allow attendees to safely travel home as snow fell in Prince George County.

With additional snowfall in the evening as the storm system departed out to sea, some school districts, likely considering the accumulation on some roads and untreated surfaces, along with conditions at bus stops and the risk of black ice during the morning commute, opted to close Friday, giving students and staff a three-day weekend.

Locally, schools in Prince George, Dinwiddie, Sussex, Surry, and all of the Tri-Cities were closed Friday.

According to estimates from the National Weather Service office out of Wakefield, the bulk of the snow fell in Southampton and Suffolk Counties, with the former having received five inches of snow, including 5.1 inches in the City of Franklin.

Points north and west, totals were lower, with 3.5 inches reported in Wakefield and roughly the same in neighboring Surry County. In Prince George, Dinwiddie and through the Tri-Cities, anywhere from 1-to-2 inches of snow were measured by spotters in the region.

While Richmond largely missed out on Thursday’s snow with less than an inch recorded in the state capital, Hampton Roads even got in on the snow as approximately 2-to-3 inches fell in the region, including two inches in Virginia Beach.

As is traditionally the case when schools close for weather-related or other unforeseen reasons, the question becomes how many snow days have area districts built into their calendar in the event of unexpected closures.

In Dinwiddie County, Christie Clarke, the school district’s director of school and community relations explained they opt to build Dinwiddie Public Schools’ calendar based on instructional hours instead of school days.

“There are specific state requirements for all three of our levels – high school, middle school, and elementary school,” Clarke detailed. “We use the high school requirement of 990 hours of instructional time, which is the highest requirement. When 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 any unexpected school closures.”

For DCPS, their calendar was built on 1,059 instructional hours, distributed across 180 total school days. So far, including last Friday’s closure, the school district has missed two days during the 2019-2020 school year, with the second missed day tied to the Sept. 6, 2019 closure ahead of the approaching Hurricane Dorian.

After missed days, Clarke said the school division’s leadership will evaluate if the need exists to make adjustments to their school calendar. Such an adjustment was made in 2018 after a pair of winter storms closed the school district for seven days in January of that year as some days were converted to full school days to regain some of the missed instructional time.

“This is done through working with school administrators and division directors, who collect feedback from teachers and staff as part of the process,” Clarke shared. “For the 2019-2020 school calendar that was published, we did include procedures for make up days,” adding they have already predetermined several days that could be used if the need to make up missed days arise.

According to their calendar, if the school year were to fall behind the required instructional days or hours, DCPS can make up that time by converting non-school days – March 17, April 13, or May 25 – into regular school days, “adding instruction time to existing days, or adding days to the end of the year.”

In Prince George County, school district superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff explained their district builds 10 days into their calendar based on the hours needed in both elementary and secondary education.

Similar to Dinwiddie, PGCPS also identified three days in their calendar as potential make-up days for weather, all of which have since passed – November 11, 27 and January 27.

Including a previous single-day closure for Hurricane Dorian in September, Prince George Schools have been closed for two days during the 2019-2020 school year.

“Prince George County Public Schools builds this ‘banked time’ into the annual calendar to try to limit the impact of unexpected changes for our families and staff,” Pennycuff said. “If the “banked time” is not exhausted, the School Board is able to consider providing students and teachers with an additional day off towards the end of the school year.”

Much of Thursday’s snowfall departed the grassy and elevated surfaces by the weekend as above-freezing temperatures and plentiful sunshine aided in the region’s thaw.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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