Niagara Gazette

January 30, 2014

Schools forced to make new plans as snow days pile up

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The weather was downright brutal throughout the month of January. Two “polar vortex” storms brought winds whipping chills through parkas while already frigid temperatures mixed with fresh snowfalls to create either a winter wonderland or a mess, depending on the viewpoint.

It also pushed local school districts to close elementary and middle schools four days, something parents took note of, especially if wake up calls came in the wee hours of the morning.

Four days, it turns out, weren’t scheduled into the calendars in Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara-Wheatfield last year. They’ll need to make up at least one day of school for their youngest of charges to remain compliant with the state’s requirement of 180 instruction days.

“We’ll have to take a look at our calendar,” Niagara-Wheatfield Superintendent Lynn Fusco said. “Of course, children’s safety is of the utmost importance. Hopefully this particular snap is behind us.”

Each of the superintendents in the area are exploring their calendars for ways to find at least one day. Niagara Falls Superintendent Cynthia Bianco, for instance, said her district will look to take a previously scheduled conference day, when no students report but teachers are at work, and convert it into a school day for those who had school canceled Wednesday.

The switch works since the district asked staff to attend this latest closing, making it an impromptu conference day with terribly short notice.

“We had two days available for snow days and a third if we needed it,” Bianco said of the original schedule. “So, for those who are in grades pre-kindergarten, even though it isn’t required, through eighth grade will make up a day. We have superintendent’s conference days scheduled in May and June we’ll have to adjust.”

High school students, who are in the process this week of taking required regents exams and were asked to attend school if scheduled for an exam, do not fall into the same situation as those younger students because regents days count as instruction days, Bianco said.

Bianco’s scenario works in Niagara Falls but doesn’t appear to be possible in Lewiston-Porter. Superintendent Christopher Roser doesn’t have conference days built into his calendar and he’s run out of snow days just like everyone else.

His solution is to earn some of those extra days back, but it’ll take a special meeting of the district’s school board to make possible because the new plan comes at the expense of the upcoming February five-day break districts take President’s Day week.

“Today was the last (snow day) and we still have two more months of winter,” Roser said. “So we’re looking to have school during the week of February break. Statistically, March has been the worst month for snow in the past. So I need to get those snow days back. We need to make sure we meet 180 days.

Roser said it’s the first time in his career in education, spanning years as a teacher and a principal before becoming a superintendent, he’s had to take days back due to weather closings.

In addition to the school board, he said he’s been conversing with Lewiston-Porter United teachers about the situation and informed its representatives the plan may happen. 

“We can’t wait any longer,” he said. “Most people do take a spring break and there’s nowhere else in our calendar we can make them up. And the teachers understand we can’t lose state aid.”




Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.