It has been one problem after another this year, with storms and cancellations. It is only the beginning of April, and already the last day of school for the Nutmeg Public Schools this year is scheduled for June 25. Bob Bombast, veteran member of the Nutmeg Board of Education, is worried that one more big storm could push the last day of school into July, which is not allowed. Accordingly, Bob was considering suggesting that the Board cancel April vacation to create a buffer. However, before he did so, he wanted to get some informal parent feedback, and Bob sent out a survey on his personal email on his home computer to 200 of his closest parent friends, asking for input.
Bob was shocked at the vehement response against his proposal. Of the 120 responses he received, over 100 were opposed to cancelling any part of April vacation. Bob was disappointed, because he felt that there was no reasonable alternative to assure that the students would get their 180 days of school. Therefore, Bob decided after some reflection to keep quiet about the survey and go ahead and propose cancelling April vacation.
Given that the Board agenda for the meeting last night already included the item School Calendar, Bob was all set to make his pitch. As soon as the Board reached this agenda item, Bob’s hand shot up, and he announced, “Mr. Chairman, after hearing from our constituents, I think that we should bite the bullet and cancel April vacation to make sure we can end the school year on time.”
Mal Content, Bob’s nemesis on the Board, was ready. “Is that a motion, Bob? If so, I am surprised. Some parents told me about your survey, and they must have told you what they told me – cancelling vacation at this late date is a terrible idea. Aren’t you going to share your survey results with us?”
“Well . . . ” Bob responded uncertainly, “That survey was on my home email, and it had nothing to do with the Board. The issue is the school calendar, and we should cancel April vacation so that we can finish the year on time.”
Mal was quick to respond. “I will vote against the motion. Bob is overreacting. It is still early. We will probably be fine with the weather for the rest of the year. And if need be, we can either hold school on Saturdays or get a waiver. We might even do double sessions to make up the time.”
The other Board members had no interest in disappointing students and parents alike by cancelling April vacation, and they were relieved to hear Mal shoot down Bob’s proposal. Indeed, Bob’s motion did not get a second. However, there was one calendar issue that the Board members did address. Ms. Superintendent explained that the Board would soon have to put down its deposit for the venue for graduation, and she asked for a motion fixing a graduation date of June 25, come hell or high water. The motion passed unanimously.
If extra school days are needed, will Mal’s ideas work?
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School districts throughout the state have been challenged to make up school days this year, and we should all hope for a quiet spring. The statutes provide that all school districts must hold at least 180 actual school sessions each year, and those sessions must be held prior to July 1, which by statute is the start of the new school year.
Some years ago, the General Assembly eliminated the concept of a minimum school day of four hours. That change made sense. Before the change, superintendents would feel pressure to delay early dismissals to get in the four hour minimum day even as the weather would worsen. Now, there is no minimum number of hours for a school session, and school districts must simply offer 900 hours of actual instructional time (450 for kindergarten) to students. However, school districts cannot count more then seven hours in any day. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-16. Thus, Mal’s suggestion of double sessions is questionable.
Even though the minimum school day has been eliminated, 180 school sessions are still required. This requirement is virtually absolute, with only the possibility that the State Board of Education can waive this requirement, an unlikely prospect, as discussed below. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15.
The statutes impose further restrictions on rescheduling school days. Section 10-16 expressly states that “[w]hen public school sessions are cancelled for reasons of inclement weather or otherwise, the rescheduled sessions shall not be held on Saturday or Sunday.” School districts thus must schedule all 180 school sessions Monday through Friday prior to July 1 or obtain a waiver.
The State Board of Education views the granting of a waiver as a last resort. In Circular Letter C-9, Series 2010-2011 (January 21, 2011), the Commissioner of Education stated:
“When closures due to inclement weather occur early enough in the school year (such as in the winter months), local boards will have sufficient time throughout the remainder of the school year, through June 30, to make up lost days. Therefore, the State Department of Education ordinarily will not support waiver requests for snow days. As a result, boards of education should anticipate that the SBE will not ordinarily consider waiving the 180-day requirement this year due to school closures as a result of inclement weather.
Therefore, school districts should certainly not count on the State Board of Education to grant a waiver so that they can avoid difficult choices. Before granting any such waiver, the State Board of Education will ask what efforts the district has already made to reschedule the days, including by using vacation days or holidays. In addition, the State Board would likely require a plan to make up the time in the following year.
The action taken regarding graduation stands on a different footing. After April 1, boards of education may schedule a firm graduation date as long as the calendar then provides for a year of at least 180 days of school from that day forward. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-16l. However, if subsequent cancellations would result in fewer days by the date of graduation, the graduating seniors must be invited back to receive the full 180 school sessions for the year. See Circular Letter C-9, cited above.
Finally, Bob created a potentially embarrassing problem for himself when he sent out his survey. Bob is a public official, and any email he sends out or receives that relates to the business of the Nutmeg Public Schools is a public record. Such is the case whether Bob uses his home computer or his personal email address. If Mal really wanted to cause Bob trouble, he could make a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the survey results, and upon receiving that request Bob would be legally obligated to provide those records to Mal.