Schools seek more instructional days

PARKERSBURG – Wood County Schools students have missed nine days of instruction this year because of winter weather.

Mike Fling, assistant superintendent of school services, said Tuesday marked the ninth day missed because of snow and cold. A two-hour delay planned for this morning was canceled to give students a full day of instruction.

“This winter has been a bit unforgiving,” Fling said. “We’re holding out any hope we can get school in session.”

The Wood County Board of Education in March will vote to extend the school year to June 10 and replace several out-of-school days with instructional days. By state law the school system cannot make the modifications until after March 1, Fling said.

Even so, the district likely will fall short of the state-required 180 days of instruction. Fling said officials will look to see if any other days can be recaptured, but for now it looks like three days will be lost.

Overall this year’s numbers are comparable to years past.

Fling said last school year schools were closed six days and had three two-hour delays. The 2011-12 school year saw a much milder winter with only one delay and one closure.

In 2010-11, schools closed eight times and had two-hour delays five times.

Fling said one problem with two-hour delays days is often fewer students attend.

“You have to make the decisions not only on road conditions, temperatures, all of those things, but also if we open school today will it be a productive day?” Fling said. “If only 60 percent of your students show up that day, you have a gap in instruction. How much will actually get done that day?”

Fling said on bad-weather days, crews begin driving bus routes around 3:45 in the morning to check on road conditions.

“They report that information back to me and I assemble it and present it to our superintendent for a decision,” he said. “We try to make the decision as early as we can.”

Though often main streets are OK, many side streets and rural routes can be relatively untouched and treacherous, especially for the buses which must find areas to turn around or even meet up with other buses to exchange students during their morning runs.

This year temperatures also have been an issue, with several days in the single digits or lower and wind chill factors in the negatives. Fling said those kinds of temperatures cause issues with the buses and are dangerous for students who may be standing at bus stops or walking to school.

This year the state branch of Homeland Security has issued wind-chill warnings to schools throughout the state, Fling said. Officials also have conference calls with meteorologists and neighboring school systems to determine the best course of action.

Officials already are looking ahead to this weekend and yet another possible snowstorm. Early predictions have bounced from 6-8 inches of snow to 1-3 inches of snow, and Fling said those numbers likely will change several more times as forecasters attempt to track and predict the course of the storm.

“It’s just too early to start making that call,” he said.

Fling said the school system’s 96 buses run about 300 routes each day. A good portion of the district’s more than 13,000 students either ride the bus or walk to school.

“We are trying the best that we can to make the right decision,” Fling said. “We have to consider the safety of everyone.”