By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 19, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Much of Southside Virginia and Central North Carolina are finally able to return to some sense of normalcy after a potent winter storm brought many communities to a standstill under a foot or more of snowfall.
According to data from the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, portions of Prince George County received nearly a foot of snow during last Sunday’s winter storm, with neighbors to the northeast in Chesterfield and west toward Dinwiddie receiving similar or slightly more in some instances.
As snow coated the county’s roadways, the eventual freezing temperatures would create a dangerous combination for school buses, which resulted in school’s being closed for four days last week as the county and region worked to thaw out.
Prior to the storm’s arrival early last week, Prince George Schools’ Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff explained the school division’s calendar is built in such a way to handle inclement weather closures like the one throughout last week.
“In Prince George County, we build 10 days into our school calendar based on meeting the hours necessary for both elementary and secondary courses,” Lisa Pennycuff said ahead of the storm.
So far this school year, Prince George County students have missed seven days due to inclement weather, four as a result of last week’s snowstorm and three due to other weather-related impacts, but one of those three missed days has already been made up, leaving four inclement weather or emergency days banked in their calendar for the remainder of the 2018-2019 school year.
Parents are now questioning if this year’s early inclement weather impacts, well before the height of Virginia’s winter season will result in adjustments to the school division’s calendar as some school divisions have done in year’s past.
Last year, despite the active winter, the school division was able to finish the school year without depleting their inclement weather day reserves, which resulted in the school system being able to provide students and teacher with an additional day off toward the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
As of the publication of this article, neither the school division or the Prince George School Board have made any announcement of plans to make up missed days or discussions of calendar adjustments. Prior to last Sunday’s snowfall, Pennycuff said that evaluations are actively made following closures to determine the need to regain time.
“Prince George County Public Schools builds this ‘banked time’ into the annual calendar to try to limit the impact of unexpected changes for our families and staff,” Pennycuff explained, adding that the school system has three days in their calendar that have been formally designated as “potential make-up days for inclement weather.”
Following recent storms, officials with the Virginia Department of Education have referred school divisions back to a memorandum issued by then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Steven Staples that reminds school divisions of the regulations that surround school calendars and make-up days.
In that memo, Staples reiterates that school systems are required to provide instruction “for a minimum of 180 days or 990 hours each school year.” Should a school division be unable to meet that requirement due to inclement weather or emergencies, “days missed must be made up in accordance with the formula outlined in the Code of Virginia,” which states “the school division must make up the first five days, and then make up one day for every two days missed in excess of the first five days missed by adding teaching days to the school calendar or extending the length of the school day.”
Staples continued, “School divisions may use instructional time built into the school calendar that exceeds the 990 instructional hour minimum or add time to the remaining days to offset the days missed,” which Prince George has done in building ten inclement weather or emergency closures into their calendar and their neighbors to the west in Dinwiddie have done by exceeding the 990-hour minimum.
The memo adds that state code allows for the Virginia Board of Education “to waive the requirement that school divisions provide additional teaching days or teaching hours to compensate for school closings resulting from a declared state of emergency.” On Saturday, December 8, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of the approaching winter storm.
In order to receive this waiver, a school division would have to submit a request to the state board of education with “evidence of efforts that have been made by the school division to reschedule as many days as possible and certification by the division superintendent and chairman of the local school board that every reasonable effort for making up lost teaching days or teaching hours was exhausted before requesting a waiver of this requirement.”
Should a school division be denied a waiver, they would have to make up the lost time as detailed in state law.
Beginning December 20, students head home for winter break before returning to classes on January 3. As of the publication of this article, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the date of January 28, 2019, remain holidays for Prince George students.