School leaders evaluate class time following snow closures

Snow days are adding up, forcing administrators in Idaho districts and charter schools to rethink 2017 schedules and instructional hours.

Most every district and charter school in Idaho has been forced to cancel multiple days of school because of adverse winter weather and treacherous road conditions. Idaho’s largest West Ada School District has canceled five days. The Nampa School District and Boise School District have canceled six days.

A few school leaders are considering holding school on holidays, adding time to days, tacking days to the end of the year or going to school on Fridays in those districts on four-day school weeks.

But others say there is no need to increase class time. The Boise School District has canceled six school days and doesn’t plan to add any time back into the remaining school year. Caldwell and Blaine County have canceled school multiple days and neither are planning to add time to the 2016-17 school year.

“If there is a need for additional emergency closure days, we still have a couple more days available for flexibility,” said Dan Hollar, spokesman for the district, referring to the district’s responsibility to meet Idaho law.

Idaho does not have a day requirement for students to be in school but Idaho code 33-512 stipulates required hours for students to be in contact with a teacher. (The law allows for 11 hours of emergency school closures.)

  • Grades 9-12 — 990 teacher-contact hours
  • grades 4-8 — 900 hours
  • grades 1-3 — 810 hours
  • kindergarten — 450 hours

West Ada will add two days back into the schedule not because of state law but because of district policy that requires classes be held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 16) and Presidents Day (Feb. 20) if four cancellations happen before Jan. 10.

Nampa is grabbing hours here and there to meet state requirements and improve learning opportunities. A couple of early release days will become full days and seniors will have more hours to complete projects.

Four-day school district Horseshoe Bend has canceled three days and is considering using Fridays for lost instructional time.

“Any loss of time is concerning, particularly considering we already have fewer instructional days due to the four-day week,” said Dennis Chesnut, superintendent of Horseshoe Bend. “As we are committed to teaching our curriculum to fidelity, particularly in the elementary, we will be scrambling to catch up.”

In East Idaho, students in Snake River School District have lost about 26 hours of school time, putting the seniors dangerously close to falling under the state’s hour requirement. Seniors in Snake River started the year with only 142 teacher-contact days, among the lowest in Idaho. Superintendent David Kerns said the missed time could be made up by adding time to remaining school days or holding classes on Fridays.

“We really don’t know how we’ll do it yet,” Kerns said. “We’ll look into that when everyone gets back.”

All schools in the Idaho Falls School District are on track to meet the required instructional hours, said district spokesperson Margaret Wimborne. A broken water main at the district’s Temple View Elementary, however, has brought the school very close to the state’s hour requirement.

Districts like Caldwell, Fruitland and Notus were still on holiday vacation during the heavy round of storms and haven’t been forced to cancel school.

“With the flexibility of the four-day school week, we can add additional days back into our calendar,” said Craig Woods, superintendent of the Notus School District.

(Idaho EdNews reporter Andrew Reed contributed to this report.)