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Mounting snow days could lead to shortened spring break at area schools


The average north country school sets aside four to six days each year for emergency closures for events such as snow and ice or other extreme weather, and two districts — Belleville Henderson and Carthage Central schools — already have used their last snow days.

“We are completely maxed out. We’ve had six snow days, and that doesn’t cover our delays,” Belleville Henderson Superintendent Rick T. Moore said. “We still have two superintendent days and we’ve talked about taking days from our February break, but if we need more days off, we’ll have to work with our teachers association to decide on days that work for everyone.”

Sackets Harbor has one unused snow day; Beaver River, Copenhagen, Lyme, Lowville, Gouverneur and Watertown City School districts have two snow days left; General Brown, Indian River and South Lewis have three unused snow days, and Thousand Islands, Alexandria, Clifton-Fine and LaFargeville have four.

The early winter storms combined with temperatures as low as 35 degrees below zero and lake-effect snowfalls have contributed to a high number of snow days used up before February has even started, said Karen M. Donahue, superintendent of Lyme Central School, Chaumont. Mrs. Donahue said she can recall only one time in recent school history when the district had to borrow days not only from winter break, but spring break as well to make up for emergency closures, and that was for the ice storm of 1998.

Mrs. Donahue said schools are required to have students in attendance for at least 180 days, and administrators have to be at the school for at least 186 days. Typically, if all snow days are used up, makeup days would be scheduled for spring break beginning with that Friday and working backward.

But that could be subject to change this year because Good Friday falls on April 18.

“We work on a draft calendar this time of year, and it will be discussed and approved at school board meetings,” Sackets Harbor Central School Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. said. “If we have to use our last days, it will be state testing dates that determine when we’ll make up school days.”

Mr. Hall said he hopes his district doesn’t have to use any more snow days.

“That leaves us one day. If the unfortunate fact that we need to use more than that day, we would start to take back days from the April recess,” he said. “I’m going to try to be optimistic here, but also realistic.”

Carthage Central School Superintendent Peter J. Turner said because the past few winters have been mild compared with this year, the district had set aside only four emergency days. After this winter, the district most likely will choose to add more snow days.

“We have delayed twice and closed early twice. There are typically six days built into the calendar for snow days. However, this year an additional day was built in,” General Brown Superintendent Cammy J. Morrison said. “If we happen to deplete all of our days, we will take days, as needed, from upcoming vacations.”

Regents examinations were administered across the state on Monday, and several schools had to cancel their exams Monday and again Tuesday afternoon.

“The students will have the opportunity to take the tests again in June and, if they don’t do well, they can sit through it again in August,” Mrs. Donahue said. “If a school is closed for electrical problems or something like that, the test can be given at another location, but when the school is closed because it’s a safety hazard, we can’t ask people to bring their kids to the school for the tests.”

Mrs. Donahue said it is unfortunate some students will have to take the test later because, not only do the December tests offer a chance for students to retake them in June if they get a low score, but the tests are subject to change.

“Some tests are changing format after this session, so the test that was canceled Monday was the last opportunity for students to take it in that format. The test in June will have the same subject, just a different format,” Mrs. Donahue said.

She said that ultimately the school closure days have resulted in greater complications than just for schools; they have made it hard on families who have had the added task of reorganizing their schedules every time there is a school closure, an early dismissal or a delay.

“This has been very unusual weather even for the north country,” Mrs. Donahue said. “Six months ago I probably couldn’t clearly describe what a polar vortex was, but I definitely know now.”

With more snow predicted, safety remains the top concern for administrators.

“In the early morning hours, we have to think long and hard about possible risks. We really try to anticipate this changing weather,” Mrs. Donahue said. “We have traditionally encouraged to always have a plan B. Mother Nature doesn’t call and plan ahead.”

Mr. Moore said it can be difficult to predict what the weather will do, but officials don’t make the decision to cancel school lightly. He said it’s like being in charge of a “huge family.”

“I have been to a lot of funerals to kids from weather-related accidents,” Mr. Moore said. “It’s a tough decision every morning, but our board isn’t too hard on ourselves if we’ve been too cautious and called off school.”

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