Spills, chills and thrills on Suicide Hill
Temperatures are hovering in the 90s, but Kansas City School District Superintendent Mark Bedell is thinking about snow.
Under a new state law signed this month by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, districts now have more flexibility in how they make up snow days — meaning they may no longer have to tack on days at the end of the school year. In addition, Bedell said, the change could improve how well his district fares on state assessments.
Before, Missouri schools were required to have 174 days of instruction each year. Last year, bad weather forced the Kansas City district to miss four days. The district had built only one snow day into the school calendar, so students and staff had to make up three days — time that would have been part of their summer vacation.
But the new law, effective for the 2019-2020 school year, measures instruction time in hours rather than days. Districts will be required to have 1,044 hours of instruction. Area district leaders say they can find other ways to make up the lost time.
Bedell said it may even be possible to add 10 or 15 minutes more to each school day.
“It may even help some of our parents,” giving them more time to pick up their children, he said. As for the students, Bedell said he doesn’t think they would notice a few more minutes of class time.
“We are extremely ecstatic about this legislation,” Bedell said. “It makes sense for us. Making up those snow days in May after the state assessment has already passed does not necessarily help us.”
Plus, by then, “people have already set vacation schedules, teachers have done the same, so it then requires us to have substitute teachers, and it results in us having low attendance rates.”
Bedell said he felt so strongly that a change was needed that he went to Jefferson City to talk with state educators about finding a way to do things differently.
Tacking on makeup days, Bedell said, is tough on districts like his that struggle with student attendance. A lot of students simply don’t show up for those extra days.
End-of-the-year absenteeism can throw a wrench in a district’s attempt to meet state requirements that say 90 percent of students have to be in class 90 percent of the time. Attendance is one of the areas scored in each public district’s Annual Yearly Progress report.
Last year one of the key areas where the Kansas City Public Schools fell down in its state-measured performance was attendance.
Meanwhile, Grain Valley school officials say the change may mean they won’t have to make up snow days at all.
The Grain Valley school calendar for the coming academic year was set two years ago with students getting 174 days of instruction. “We think that figures out to 1,218 hours,” said Brad Welle, deputy superintendent for students and community service. “So we actually will have some padding.”
Welle, said district officials have not quite figured out how they will use the new law once it takes effect for the 2019-20 school year.
“We might continue to do things the way we always have and just keep a built-in cushion,” Welle said. “That would mean a day missed for snow is just a day missed that wouldn’t have to be made up. Our parents would really love that.”