As the snow came down this past week, school districts across Yakima County watched missed school days pile up along with the powder.
Superintendents were left to decide whether to keep school doors open, delay classes by a few hours or call school off in light of the inclement weather.
Many districts in the Yakima Valley wound up calling snow days. Parents lauded the cancellations and delays on social media, noting that the safety of children and teachers was more important than risking it on the roads for a day of class.
But what will it mean for districts? Will they have to make up the lost days?
Eleven of 15 districts in the county surpassed the number of makeup days built into their academic calendars for the year this week, while more have reached their built-in limit.
Mabton, for example, has taken four snow days, but only two were built into its academic calendar. Wapato and Grandview have each taken five, surpassing their built-in days by three and four school days, respectively.
Only the East Valley School District has an unused makeup day.
“We’ve been lucky so far,” said East Valley Superintendent John Schieche. “I’m hoping that this weather is about through. ... We hope we’re home free.”
For districts that ate up all of the leeway, the start of summer could be a bit further out of reach. Missed school days often are tacked onto the end of the school year.
Reprieve from the state
Superintendents are sorting out whether that will be necessary.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said Tuesday districts statewide can apply to have snow days waived during the state of emergency called by Gov. Jay Inslee from Feb. 8-15. Schools still need to meet the mandatory minimum hours of school, which is 1,027. OSPI said it doesn’t expect districts to file for waivers until later this school year.
Union Gap Superintendent Lisa Gredvig said her district is reviewing the OSPI announcement to determine what to do.
“We’ve only missed two days,” said Union Gap Superintendent Lisa Gredvig. “We don’t have any snow days built into our schedule, and this is something that we’re obviously looking into for our calendar for next year.”
OSPI spokeswoman Katy Payne said during the state of emergency, districts only need to make sure they have the required number of hours. Districts also can ask for snow days to be waived outside the emergency period, but they need to meet other criteria.
“If it does not fall within the state of emergency, they have to show a reasonable effort (has been made to make up for lost days),” Payne said.
Outside of the state of emergency, the "reasonable effort" includes making up at least three missed school days and surpassing a June 14 summer release date, she said. Early start schools, including those in Union Gap, which started their academic year on Aug. 23 and will finish courses in early June, are unlikely to meet the requirement to receive a waiver for dates outside of the state of emergency.
“June 14 applies to everybody.”
Weighing the options
The Yakima School District has missed three days due to inclement weather, but has scheduled makeup days, including one Friday. Another makeup day is scheduled for this coming week, while the last has been tacked on to the end of the school year for a half-day on June 13. Officials are assessing whether a waiver is applicable to the district.
Mabton Superintendent Joseph Castilleja said that with four days of instruction already lost to the snow, the state of emergency likely wouldn’t save the district from extra days tacked onto the end of the academic calendar — something superintendents countywide will have to consider.
“We’re going to have to look at the school hours that are offered to see if we even are qualified for that (waiver). My guess is that we’re going to have to add it to the end of the school year in June,” Castilleja said. “We have not done this yet, but we’ll be combing through this to see where we land.”
Zillah Assistant Superintendent Justin Irion said that while the district missed two days of school with no built-in makeup days, it does meet the minimum requirement for school hours and will “possibly be taking advantage of the waiver.”
In Grandview, Superintendent Henry Strom said the district has had five lost days, with only one makeup day in the calendar. Those lost hours could pose a problem in seeking a waiver, he said.
“We’re trying to run some numbers to see what that would look like,” Strom said. “You do have to meet the 1,027 hours of instruction hours no matter what you apply for. That would be our challenge right now.”