Local school administrators are charged with the responsibility of keeping students safe, and often make decisions that prove to be unpopular with people in the community.
Recent inclement weather and the delaying or cancellation of school as a result is one decision Dr. Stuart Blount and Dr. Eric Bracy have recently been charged with making. Both superintendents stressed the importance of putting safety first when making decisions, and neither regret their canceling of school during the pending snow storm last week.
Community members have raised questions regarding both superintendents canceling school last week, a day before the winter weather was scheduled to hit our area. On Tuesday, Jan. 16, both school systems announced the closing of school for Wednesday, Jan. 17, in anticipation of the snow storm heading towards Sampson County.
When inclement weather didn’t hinder travel until late into Wednesday evening, some students and parents began questioning the superintendents’ decisions, and now students are left with making up an extra day.
Bracy, superintendent for Sampson County Schools, said decisions regarding school attendance on weather days is determined by inspecting the road conditions in all areas of the county. In a county that covers 947 square miles, Bracy said the decisions made may not be a direct reflection on the weather in all areas.
“Our transportation and operations staff inspect the roads and make a recommendation to me,” Bracy explained. “On any inclement weather situation, we can have an ice storm in the Union district and the skies could be clear in the Midway district.”
This, he added, was the case following last week’s storm and the district’s cancellation of three days of school.
“On our most recent inclement weather delay, the secondary roads in the Midway district still had some icy areas,” he added.
In all, Sampson County students have missed five days due to winter weather, and the board will vote to approve make up days next Monday by adopting a revised 2017-2018 school calendar. Bracy said the county has several banked days and inclement weather days built into the school system’s calendar.
Proposed make up days are Feb. 19 and March 30. Students attended school Jan. 16, which was originally a teacher workday.
Several years ago school calendar requirements were changed by state legislation, now requiring systems to either operate on a 185 day calendar for students or a minimum of 1,025 instructional hours for the year. Prior to this legislation, schools operated under the presumption that once school buses hit the roads, it would count as a full day for students. Now that some systems operate under the instructional hour policy, that old rule isn’t the case.
“Our student school calendar is based on instructional hours, not the number of days,” Blount, Clinton City Schools superintendent, said. “Therefore, if we do not make up a student school day, we must subtract those instructional hours from our yearly instructional hour count.”
The City board adopts a budget each year that includes more than the minimum 1,025 instructional hours, and there for can waive making up some days.
Clinton City Schools students missed four days over the course of the two winter storms. Students already made up the Jan. 4 missed day on Jan. 19 and the Jan. 5 day has been forgiven. Students will make up Jan. 17 on Friday, March 30 and Jan. 18 will also be forgiven. The calendar originally had June 8 as an early release day for students, but that will now be a regular school day.
Neither system wants to interfere with spring break, so having school on a Saturday can be an option in some cases.
“Now, we’re just praying that there’s no more snow,” said Susan Warren, public relations and student services coordinator for SCS.
Saturday school, Warren explained, presents a problem for the district’s employees.
“You can’t add extra days to their week,” Warren said. “You can’t make them work six days a week. If we’re already going every day in February and there’s no breaks, there are no weeks where we can go Saturday. It would be difficult.”
Much like Bracy, Blount said he consults with a variety of sources from around the county before making any decision regarding the delay or cancellation of school.
“We gather information from a variety of sources like the National Weather Service, local law enforcement, local emergency management personnel, and local transportation authorities, and a decision is reached based on the information gathered,” Blount said.
And like Bracy, Blount explained that student and staff safety plays the biggest factor in canceling school in any situation, but most especially when there is a threat of inclement weather.
“The answer to the following question drives the decision of delaying and/or cancelling school, ‘Would it be safe to travel to and from school with pending inclement weather or existing weather conditions?’” Blount said.
Staff writer Chase Jordan contributed to this article. Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.