The snow day has always been bittersweet for schoolchildren.
On one hand, it gives them the chance to enjoy a fresh supply of wintry fun now. But it also takes away a precious day from summer vacation.
For school districts around the state, the rash of snowstorms this winter has led to an abundance of snow days and a potential scheduling nightmare with winter only half over.
“This has taken a toll on us,” said Windham Superintendent Anna Ortiz, adding the days off have disrupted lesson plans.
School officials said many area education boards will discuss how to handle the recent buildup of snow days and whether school districts need to cancel, or at least reduce, midterm vacation weeks this year.
“It’s just a tough choice because certainly people have already planned vacations,” said Columbia school board Chairman Lauren Perrotti-Verboven.
Columbia Superintendent Francine Coss said Columbia has a policy stating anytime the district has five snow days before March 1, each additional snow day means the district will remove a day from April vacation.
The district has met the threshold already this year, and Perrotti-Verboven said the board will discuss if it wants to take additional action during its meeting Monday, including possibly holding classes during the entire week of April vacation.
Not all school districts have such a policy, but others, including Mansfield and Windham, will also have similar discussions in the near future.
Windham school board Chairman Ken Folan said short-term concerns include preparations for Connecticut Mastery Tests, which are next month. The tests are used for No Child Left Behind standards, so preparation is vital.
“We need to prepare for the CMTs and (upcoming February vacation) might be days that are critical,” Folan said, adding the testing will “weigh heavily” in his opinion.
But he also noted Windham’s board of education does not meet until Feb. 9 and some may have concerns that may not be enough notice to hold classes during February vacation, which for many districts is the week of Feb. 21-25, including Windham.
Mansfield school board Chairman Mark LaPlaca said he has had a handful of parents, instead, express a support for holding classes during April vacation, which in many districts is April 18-22.
“It would be great if we could stick to the schedule” as originally approved by the board, LaPlaca said, but he and other school officials agreed going into late June can present its own problems.
He also said Mansfield’s school board will discuss the issue tonight.
Area school districts typically end classes in mid-June, creating a buffer for schools to hold additional days to make up for lost snow days.
But state law requires school districts to hold classes for at least 180 days before June 30 and many districts have had at least five snow days already.
LaPlaca said Mansfield is “getting pretty close (to that date) right now,” but also noted the school district has 183 scheduled days and could simply lose a day of classes. He also said his goal is to have 183 class days if possible.
Perrotti-Verboven said taking away vacation days now allows the school district to maintain a buffer in June in case this brutal winter lingers into March and April.
“You just can’t predict New England (weather), unfortunately,” she said.
Coss added this is “such a unique winter,” forcing school officials to often decide on the side of caution.
“The decision is always made on the side of safety,” she said, adding she talks with Columbia staff and other superintendents, as well as the town’s road crews.
Coss said school officials need to allow public works departments time to clear out schools and also keep buses from slowing down plows, something that has been a problem this year.
High snow banks have made it difficult for plows to clear roads in recent weeks and Coss said poor visibility can force buses to edge into traffic and risk accidents.
Folan noted Windham had three minor accidents involving buses Monday, while Coss said other districts in the state have had to cancel school on clear days because of high snow banks causing poor visibility.
Along with maintaining that end-of-the-year buffer, school officials said holding classes in late June can present its own set of issues.
Folan said students can lose focus that late in the year, while all school officials said their buildings are not built for a potential heat wave in late spring or early summer.
Officials all said their schools are built for a typical school year, which does not include classes in July or most of August, and they do not have central cooling systems.
Folan said he has never had to deal with such a problem as a school board member, adding “I’ve been on (the board) for 12 or 14 years now.”
But he and the other officials agreed the biggest concern is making sure students remained ready and prepared for lessons and that those lessons are available.
“Our whole goal is to keep that routine for our kids,” Coss said.
Folan agreed, saying he is worried the combination of students excited from a snow day and teachers tired from shoveling leads to little getting accomplished when everyone returns to school.
Ortiz said she is currently seeking input from staff and parents about how they want officials to handle the issue.
Other school officials said they also want to hear from the public.
For some school districts, though, trying to meet the wishes of all those involved can be a problem because a decision can impact those outside of the district itself.
Columbia, for example, sends high school students to Windham, Bolton and Lyman Memorial (Lebanon) high schools, but does not offer transportation if Columbia has no school while others do.
Ortiz said Columbia’s decision is “something we also need to consider,” but she and Coss agreed their priority is on the schools within their own districts.
LaPlaca said the same is true for Mansfield, where decisions can impact students at E.O. Smith, which also takes high school students from Ashford and Willington.