PARKERSBURG - Recent changes in state policy governing school calendars in West Virginia mean next year's schedule may look a lot different than it has in years past.
Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said changes ranging from a longer window of time to complete a school year to more options for making up days and even hours lost to bad weather means school systems are more likely to meet the required 180-days of instruction.
Under the current policies, "we have a lot of limits that, as the (West Virginia) Legislature has pointed out, keep us from having 180 days of instruction if we would have a bad winter," Law said.
Photo by Michael Erb
Franklin Elementary Center teacher Valerie Jones speaks to her fifth-grade class Thursday at the school, one of the few days school has been in session during the last two weeks due to winter weather.
The school system already has lost nearly two weeks to ice, snow and bitter cold temperatures. Those days when students have been able to attend school have often involved a two-hour delay.
Law said under the new policy, school systems will have more chances to make up any sort of delays, ensuring more instructional time for students.
"The policies and law we operate under for this school year are changing, and there will be a new way of handling days lost to bad weather next year," he said.
Judy Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction for Wood County Schools, said the passage of state Senate Bill 359 made "substantial changes" to the state's school calendar statutes. Those changes take effect for the 2014-15 school year.
Among those changes:
* The school system is required to hold at least two public hearings each year before adopting a school calendar for the upcoming year. Officials have not yet set dates for this coming school year's hearings, but said they will release a survey to the public concerning the calendar early this month.
* The instructional term must provide 180 separate days of instruction.
* The time between the beginning and closing days of the minimum 200-day employment term has been extended from 43 to 48 weeks. The school system could begin as early as Aug. 1 and go as late as June 30.
* The school board must develop a local policy that requires the recovery of all instructional time lost due to late arrivals and early dismissals.
* The school system must schedule four of its six out-of-school days after the 130th instructional day. This could potentially affect holidays such as Thanksgiving and Spring Break.
* County boards may not hold graduation ceremonies and release seniors earlier than five instructional days prior to the end of the regularly scheduled term for all students. This is determined based on the last scheduled instructional day of the original calendar submitted to the state education department for approval.
"It is going to be a big change, and it will require some adjustment from parents," Johnson said. "We may not be able to have a week-long break at Thanksgiving, and we may not be able to guarantee a Spring Break."
"There are a lot of things we do in this county, and they are based on the local culture and community," Law said. "The calendar process begins soon, and we will have to decide what sort of things we will continue to do and what we cannot."
Johnson said the district's calendar committee will begin work this month and information will be presented to the school board shortly after.