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School systems grapple with snow, school calendar

Date: 2/7/2011

Feb. 7, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — As the calendar turns from January to February, school districts across New England are faced with a mounting number of snow days that could make it difficult to finish the year within the legal parameters set forth by the state without some measures being taken.

State law mandates that schools must have 180 school days and thus requires at least 185 school days be included in the school calendar.

Here is how some of the local school systems are faring with the snow day issue thus far.

East Longmeadow

According to Superintendent Gordon Smith, East Longmeadow schools project to be open until the exact date they were open last year.

Should the district hold steady and not be required to issue another snow day, the last day of school will be June 22.

"We're still in the vicinity of when we've finished school in the past," Smith said.

In 2010, the last day of school was also June 22 and in 2009, school ended on June 19. Smith said that according to the figures he had with him when he spoke to Reminder Publications, the latest school had closed in recent memory was the 1995-96 school year. After six snow days that year, school got out on June 24.

"If we can stop within that week of June 20, I think it's still within the range where people would be comfortable," Smith said.

Smith said that while he wasn't sure if it was expressly written in the teachers' contracts, school cannot be in session after June 30 because that date is the last day of the fiscal year. While the school district currently appears to be in little danger of approaching that date, he admitted that it is a situation for which there should be a contingency.

"If we start getting close to that, we'll have to save enough time to make a good, well-organized plan," Gordon said. "If we get into a discussion about going into April vacation, we have to keep in mind that Patriots' Day is that Monday and Good Friday is at the end of that week. We want to be timely and give people time to prepare."

Smith said the issue of April vacation most likely would be discussed at the next School Committee meeting. That meeting took place late last week.

Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD )has had seven snow days thus far, according to Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea.

That puts the district dangerously close to June 30, the last day classes can be in session in order to be in accordance with contractual obligations.

O'Shea pointed out that, should future snow days create a situation where school would need to be in session beyond June 30, any contingency will not include having a school year that falls short of the 180-day requirement.

A memorandum from the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE) that was sent to all superintendents and charter school leaders and provided to Reminder Publications by O'Shea stated that the MDESE is not accepting any requests for waivers from the requirement.

The memo further stated, "School districts may decide to take one or more of these actions: cancel or shorten either their February or April vacations, convert scheduled professional development days into school days for students, hold school days on Saturday, keep school open on Good Friday, or add days later in June beyond the originally scheduled last day of school."

O'Shea admitted that cutting vacation time could be an option.

"It could come to that. Ultimately, it's the School Committee's decision and I know we'll be talking about it at our next meeting, Feb. 8," O'Shea said. "We're going to try to agree on a contingency [plan] if it's needed."


Longmeadow Superintendent Marie Doyle reports the district has had six snow days this school year.

"It's certainly more than we prefer to have at this point in the school year," Doyle said.

Also operating with a June 30 deadline for 180 classes to be completed, school would end for Longmeadow on June 23, should no further snow days occur.

Doyle said that, should winter weather cause enough school closings to bring Longmeadow close to that deadline, shortening or canceling school vacations in February and April are an option she'd hope to avoid.

"People have suggested taking away February and April breaks, but I think it's very difficult to do that, given the fact that many students and teachers travel," Doyle said.

Doyle said the superintendent's office would work with the School Committee to come up with a solution.

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