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Hampton Roads schools plan snow day make-ups

Jordan Crawford | 2/6/2014, 10:33 a.m.
Hampton Roads students will have to make-up snow days.

While many students practically fasted and prayed for the recent slew of snow day school closings, the time off wasn’t nearly as coveted by teachers and school administrators.

All five divisions in South Hampton Roads had at least five unscheduled days off the past two weeks— Suffolk had six.

While students were sledding or having snowball fights, officials were figuring out how to make up the lost time without stretching into summer and how to keep the learning process on track.

One problem is scheduling. School divisions build extra hours into the year so they don’t need makeup days if bad weather hits. Many of those hours are gone.

Suffolk students so far will be going to school on Presidents Day and Memorial Day as well as Feb. 7 and March 4, all of which had been planned off days. Chesapeake students will make up a day March 31, previously a teacher work day.

Virginia Beach made up one day Jan. 24 and will make up another March 28. Like other divisions, it’s working on what to do about the rest. This is quite a substantial disruption.

Student safety is the top priority when deciding to cancel classes. David Pace is transportation director for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. On snowy days, he and a team of 15 others drive city roads and report on whether they are ready for travel.

The crew covers every city street twice a day to see whether they’ve improved. They consider the many high school students who drive to class and have little or no experience with icy roads. Some students walk, and sidewalks often are the last areas to be cleared.

“There are a whole lot of factors that don’t include school buses,” Pace said.

Administrators closely monitor weather reports, talk to city officials and to one another before making decisions.

David Stuckwisch, superintendent of Portsmouth Public Schools, said some parents express frustration about the timing of weather-related closings, while others dislike closings altogether.

Parents especially complained a few years ago after divisions announced closings based on the prediction of a storm, Stuckwisch recalled. No snow fell.

“It’s a judgment call,” Stuckwisch said. “No matter what call you make, half of the people are going to want schools to close, and half are not.”

The off days affect schooling in other ways. Suffolk still has to hold a midterm exam day, originally scheduled for more than a week ago. That has kept teachers from seeing how much students learned in the first semester.

Once they’re back for second semester, teachers face the task of keeping students focused when distracting snow sits outside the window.

Nansemond River’s Young has kept himself busy the past two weeks. He has gone to the gym and updated a sports card collection he keeps as a hobby.

That’s not what he wants to be doing. He’s also his school’s boys’ basketball coach, and his team hasn’t played in more than two weeks. He misses his students and players.

“People talk sometimes about wanting a day off from work,” he said. “I’d rather be in school.”