By Tim Gardner
The Avery County Public School System has adopted a new policy about missed days due to inclement weather during the remainder of the 2018-19 school year, according to the system’s Human Resources Director Ken Townsend.
Despite already missing 12 days of school due to inclement winter weather (as of Tuesday, January 15) so far during this school year, students, faculty and staff members are not projected to lose any of their Easter (Spring) Break, which will run on Good Friday, April 19, and then the following Monday through Friday, April 22-26.
Last week the Avery Board of Education approved a plan for make-up days in the event the county’s public school system has to cancel more days of classes. No days will be made up until the 17th missed day of classes, which would allow for four more days (as of press time) of missed classes.
The Board policy also designates that the 17th missed day of classes would be made up on Memorial Day, May 27, which is the only Federal or State holiday after the scheduled Easter Break. Schools are currently set to be closed on Memorial Day. And the 18th, 19th and 20th day of missed school would be made up on June 5th, 6th and 7th, respectively.
Then if there are more than 20 days of missed school, the Board of Education will revisit the plan and amend it as necessary.
Besides the large number of missed days this academic year, Avery Schools also have had starting times of classes extended by an hour-to-three hours several other days due to inclement winter weather.
Avery Schools are scheduled to be open on Monday, January 21, despite it being a Federal Holiday (Martin Luther King Day), to make up one of the school days already missed.
So far, missed school days will not push up when schools end this year. The current school year is set to close on June 7. However, the actual date the school year ends still will be determined by the weather.
But Townsend said Avery High’s graduation will be held on June 7 regardless what day classes officially end in the school system.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which governs all public schools in the state, requires that schools close for the 2018-19 year on June 10 regardless of how many days were missed due to inclement weather or other factors.
That is different than years ago when there was no mandatory school closing date as the Department of Public Instruction previously stipulated that its public school students attended 180 days. The total number of days of required attendance was later changed to 185. But that requirement also was changed, and currently requires students to attend classes for 1,080 hours each school year. In emergency situations due to inclement weather, freaks of nature, disasters or other similar happenings, the number of hours students must attend each school year can be lowered to an absolute minimum of 1,025.
Townsend acknowledged that under the terms of the revised policy, it’s easier to make up school time missed by hours instead of whole days because of snow, other bad weather conditions or unusual happenings. He commented: “That state policy revision gives schools systems much more flexibility for making up missed school days and is particularly beneficial for schools in mountain counties like ours (Avery) since we have more snow and bad winter weather than most of the state.”
Townsend added that school also could be held on one or more Saturdays if additional days are missed due to inclement weather to make them up so none of Easter (Spring) Break would be forfeited, although that would be a last resort.
The State Department of Public Instruction allows schools to be open on a Saturday only if they were closed one or more days during that week. By state regulations, North Carolina Public Schools cannot be open for classes more than five days per week.
The longest closing date for students, teachers and staff in Avery County Schools came forty-one years ago during the 1977-78 year when they didn’t shut down until June 27 due to many missed days because of snow from one of the county’s worst winters on record.