By TRAVIS MORSE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — Heavy snowfall and lingering cold temperatures caused many area schools to use multiple snow days this week, which will further impact their calendars.
But snow days are not just a scheduling problem for districts. They also take away valuable instructional time to help prepare students for state testing in the spring.
“There's definitely some lost down time there,” said Michael Smith, superintendent of Mt. Vernon Township High School.
MVTHS took two snow days this week, Wednesday and Thursday, but was back in session Friday. Thursday's snow day was the district's eighth and final emergency day it had factored into the 2013-2014 calendar.
These eight days will have to be made up at the end of the year.
In January, MVTHS moved its graduation date to a week later after the district had taken six snow days. Smith said he does not expect the new graduation date, May 24, to change.
Smith added that the weather this winter has been more severe than is typical for Southern Illinois.
The combination of snow and low temperatures has led to more snow days because the roads are staying treacherous for longer periods, he said.
“It's not a decision we take lightly,” Smith said of using snow days. “We take it seriously (and consider) the safety of the students.”
Other area schools are also grappling with the impact of snow days.
Webber Township High School has used about 12 snow days so far this year, well in excess of the five emergency days the district had planned for in its calendar, said Principal Brock Harris.
Several options are now being considered by Webber school officials to deal with the situation.
Superintendent Scott Porter has applied for Act of God status for the snow days taken in excess of five, Harris said. If the status is granted, these days would not have to be made up at the end of the year.
Also, the district is considering holding school on the Pulaski Day holiday in March, as well as on a planned teacher in-service day at the end of the year, Harris said. Neither option, however, has been decided upon, he said.
Ina Grade School took its ninth snow day of the year Friday out of a total of five that had been built into the calendar.
Superintendent Monte Jo Clark said the school's strategy moving forward will likely be to apply for Act of God status for the extra days.
She also said the lost preparation time for this spring's Illinois Standards Achievement Test is a hardship for the school.
“We haven't had one of these (winters) in a long time,” Clark said. “It's disappointing and a little frustrating.”
Rome Grade School has used eight snow days so far this year, but has 10 emergency days built into its schedule.
Dwain Baldridge, Rome's superintendent, said the district's calendar shows both the latest date the school could let out if all the snow days were used and the earliest date if no such days were used.
This way, parents and school staff are aware of these potential end dates and can plan accordingly, he said.
“They know from the beginning the earliest we get out and the latest we get out,” Baldridge said.
Even so, Baldridge said using snow days can cause difficulties as it leads to the cancellation of extra-curricular activities. This week, for example, two Scholar Bowl events at Rome Grade School had to be canceled due to the weather, he said.
“When we cancel school, we don't have any of those events,” Baldridge said. “It causes a disruption, that's for sure.”
District 80 school officials were unavailable for comment for this story.