W.Va. schools must make up delays in 2014

WHEELING – West Virginia school districts will be required to make up for time lost to two-hour delays and early dismissals starting with the 2014-15 school year.

School days that start with two-hour delays or end early presently are considered a full day of instruction in the state. But new rules implemented by the West Virginia Department of Education will require county boards of education to add minutes to the school day – or entire days of instruction if needed – to recover any time lost “due to late arrivals and early dismissals due to inclement weather, the closing of schools because of the prevalence of contagious disease, conditions of weather or any other calamitous cause over which the board has no control,” the rules state.

School boards, though, will not be required to add additional minutes to their instruction day if affected schools have accumulated sufficient instructional time in their regular schedules that can be used to account for time lost to delays and early dismissals.

The new rules are “going to make a difference,” said Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith.

“We are looking into (building accrued time into the schedule), but it will depend on how many delays or dismissals we have,” she said. “We may have to use some other days to make up this time, too.”

Smith said she will be attending a meeting Jan. 7 in Charleston to discuss the new school calendar requirements and discuss with officials from other counties how they will deal with accounting for any instructional time lost.

“It would be difficult to add hours at the end of day when we have extra-curricular activities,” she said. “And people have previous plans, so it would be difficult to extend the school day. What if we have an early dismissal? We can’t have (students) come earlier in the day. Hopefully, we will be getting direction on this.”

New school calendar rules in West Virginia are intended to give local school boards more flexibility in setting their own schedules, but don’t establish a mandate for year-round instruction, said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Education.

Under the new rules, each county board of education and multi-county vocational must develop a school calendar each year, then submit it to the office of the State Superintendent of Schools for approval.The calendar must provide for at least 180 days of instruction, and a minimum of 200 work days for teachers. County boards may provide for a longer instructional term for students, but must increase the employment term by a comparable number of days.

Also, county boards of education must develop a policy for inclement weather emergencies to assure 180 separate days of instruction are provided to students.

School districts also must hold at least two public hearings before adopting a school calendar each year to allow all interested parties to discuss the proposed calendar, the rules state.

Discussions about revisions to school calendars and education policy in West Virginia began last year, when state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 359, which created substantial adjustments to numerous laws impacting public education, according to Cordeiro.

“The legislature asked us to look at and update our school calendar policy,” she said. “The new rules give county school systems more flexibility in setting their own calendars. We trust the county systems and principals to set their own calendars. But the new rules do not require a year-round calendar. If that is what a county believes is best for them that’s fine, but it is not a requirement.”

Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo said she soon will convene a calendar committee to set the school district’s calendar for the 2014-15 school year. The committee will be comprised of school administrators, parent representatives, teachers represented by the Ohio County Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers and employees represented by the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.

“Each county has its own unique needs,” Vargo said. “The (new rules) gives local school boards the opportunity to create a calendar that meets those needs.”