The Appoquinimink School District is added minutes to the instructional day for elementary and high school students next year to help provide a buffer for inclement weather days like the M.O.T. area experienced this winter.
Plowing, shoveling and adjusted travel plans are a routine part of a snowy winter for any resident of the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area.
But, perhaps, no one feels the impact more than the families of more than 12,000 students and nearly 2,000 staff members at the 17 schools in southern New Castle County.
During this past winter – one of the top 10 snowiest on record – the Appoquinimink School District, for instance, racked up 10 full days of emergency closures for snow and extreme cold, as well as three late starts and one early dismissal.
MOT Charter School, meanwhile, had two additional closures, including one caused by a burst pipe that shut down the school during an extreme cold snap in early January.
Those lost hours of instruction have resulted in a lengthened school day in Appoquinimink and a longer school year for MOT Charter, even after the Delaware Board of Education agreed to forgive several snow days.
FINDING A SOLUTION
Even as snow days continued to pile up, the Appoquinimink school board approved a controversial plan to meet a state law that requires high school seniors to receive 1,031 of instruction time each school year, while all other students are required to have 1,060 hours.
Following the lead of several other New Castle County public school districts, the board extended the school day by 30 minutes, rather than eliminate days from the district’s eight-day spring break later this month or add days onto the end of the school year.
At the time, district officials said extending the school year to make up the hours lost to snow would not have allowed seniors to meet their required instruction time before graduations next month, while younger students would have still lost the time they need to prepare for Advanced Placement, SAT and state standardized tests.
Eliminating days from spring break, on the other hand, was deemed to have been too great an inconvenience to local families who already paid out money for vacations.
Last month, the state board of education agreed to “forgive” five of the district’s snow days, but Appoquinimink Superintendent Matthew Burrows says that partial pardon is not enough to discontinue the extended school day.
“Those forgiven days mean we’re just meeting our grade level requirements for instruction time,” he said this week. “Without them, we would have had to open school on May 23 and added days to the end of the school year.”
MOT Charter, meanwhile, received six “forgiveness” days from the state board of education and added a school day that was previously scheduled for student vacation.
As a result, the school’s last day this year will be June 19, instead of June 13, as originally planned.
Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said last month that he would like to see school districts do a better job of planning for weather-related school closures now rather than seek similar snow day “forgiveness” in the future.
“Moving forward, I fully expect our district and charter leaders to directly address this challenge of ensuring adequate time for both educators and students,” he said. “I expect they will begin to work with their communities, their parents and their teachers to build in strategies to ensure our students and educators are not robbed of learning time.”
Officials in the Appoquinimink School District say they plan to meet that request by extending the length of the school day for elementary and high school students next year.
The 2014-2015 school year calendar approved by the Appoquinimink school board this week adds another 27 minutes of instructional time for elementary school students by moving the start time from 8:50 a.m. back to 8:35 a.m., while extending the dismissal time from 3:23 p.m. to 3:35 p.m.
High school dismissal times also will be extended by 10 minutes to 2:30 p.m.
Ray Gravuer, the district’s director of secondary curriculum, said the additional instruction time at the elementary school level will add an extra 50 hours over the course of the school year, while high school students will pick up an additional 28.5 hours.
Middle schools, which already have longer instructional days that the other grade levels, will not be affected, he said.
“The state law sets a minimum standard for hours of instruction, but you can always teach more,” he said. “These added minutes to the school day, over the course of the year, will allow us to absorb seven to eight inclement weather days if we have another difficult winter again next year. It also gives all students 6.5 hours of instruction per day.”
But just to be sure, the district’s school calendar for next year also includes the equivalent of three weather contingency days, including half days on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15 that can be extended to full days, as well as a scheduled day off on Jan. 16 and a scheduled day off for high school students on March 20.