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Brain freeze: Ice days a setback for schools

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, December 14, 2013

Students returned to school late this week after what seemed like a mini-ice age finally started to thaw.

Depending on which district they attend, Wise County students missed four or five days of classes due to the winter storm. Most districts only pencil in two bad-weather days on their school calendars.

Arctic Break

ARCTIC BREAK – Students missed four to five days of school over the past two weeks due to an ice storm. At Decatur High School employees break up the ice in the parking lot early Thursday morning so students can finally get back to class. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The sleet began to fall blast Thursday. It accumulated and compacted 2 inches or more on every road in the county. Schools closed Friday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Most started again sometime Thursday, but Alvord students didn’t return to class until 10:30 a.m. Friday.

And some schools that returned Thursday saw below-average attendance.

“Our attendance was not good today,” said Bridgeport Superintendent Eddie Bland Thursday. “We have 12 bus routes and only five were able to run the full route. Four couldn’t run at all, and three only ran partial routes because roads were still icy.”

Districts now have to figure out how to make up the lost days. The state requires all schools to operate for 187 days. Seven of those are for staff development and the other 180 are for instruction.

Boyd Superintendent Ted West said they have a couple of options.

“We can apply to the TEA (Texas Education Agency) for a waiver,” West said. “We also have several flex days in our calendar that we can turn into instructional days.”

Local districts had to apply for waivers in the past when a winter storm closed schools for five days in February 2011. The swine flu outbreak of spring 2009 also prompted closures for several days. The TEA has always issued waivers in these types of situation.

West assured there is no truth right now to rumors that students will have to make up the days during spring break or have to attend school later into the summer.

But the loss of instructional days definitely puts more pressure on teachers.

Frozen Wake

FROZEN WAKE – The landscape in Wise County turned into a tundra last week forcing students to miss up to five days of instruction. Teachers must now figure out how to make up for the lost instructional time. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“From an instructional standpoint it is a big deal when you miss four straight days,” Bland said. “Our teachers have to regroup and re-plan how to get in all the coursework. We don’t have any other option.”

“Our teachers already do so much planning,” West said. “They only have 180 days to teach all that is required in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) – everything that students need to learn.”

Things will get even more difficult if more winter storms hit in January and February and cause students to miss more instructional days than they already have.

“This is a first for me,” Bland said. “I’ve never seen us close this many days before Christmas. Usually we don’t have to close for any bad-weather days until January or February.”

Districts must wait until late in the school year to apply for a waiver. TEA does not review waivers for missed instructional days because of weather, safety or health reasons until late March or early April – after winter weather is past.

Until then, students will await any more impromptu holidays while teachers figure out to how to make up for the lost instruction time.

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