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Planning for the worst: Area schools rely on padded schedules to meet state requirements

Michael Smith
USA TODAY

The widespread snow and ice may be in the past, but area school districts are still dealing with the fallout of school cancellations. Thankfully, the process is fairly routine for school administrators since state guidelines give districts some options for making up weather days.

On the afternoon of Feb 4, school closing announcements started trickling into newsrooms and across social media. All Carter County schools — and hundreds more across the state — ended up closed for two days beginning on Feb. 5, when a weather system plunged Oklahoma temperatures well below freezing and dumped snow, sleet and freezing rain across the region.

“We have learned not to trust the weather in Southern Oklahoma,” said Ardmore City Schools Superintendent Kim Holland. As the largest school district in the county, ACS sets an unofficial standard for other schools and daycares in the area when making the decision to delay or cancel classes. However, unlike private schools or daycares, ACS and other public schools must make sure that each school year meets a minimum number of days or classroom hours.

“For all public schools in Oklahoma, school shall be in session and classroom instruction offered no less than one hundred eighty (180) days; or no less than one thousand eighty (1,080) hours each school year,” according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education website. According to the 2019-2020 ACS academic calendar, the current school year has 166 days but instructional hours are well above the 1,080.

While it may sound rather straightforward, the process by which SDOE verifies minimum days or hours are met is slightly more complex. ACS Executive Assistant Marcy King said that she maintains four spreadsheets each school year: high school, middle school, elementary schools, and early childhood. “One sheet for all schools is not an option for us because they have different start and stop times,” she said in a Thursday email.

According to a document provided by Ardmore City Schools, Ardmore Middle School had just over 1,120 hours of instructional time reserved at the beginning of the school year, or 40 hours more than the OSDE minimum of 1,080.

As hours or entire days are cancelled throughout the year, King updates the spreadsheets and verifies that schools still meet the minimum threshold set by the SDOE. Even after the two weather days earlier this month, King said most elementary schools and Ardmore Middle School still have about nine school days over the state minimum. Will Rogers Elementary has about three extra days and Ardmore High School has about seven extra days remaining.

Next Tuesday, the Ardmore City Schools Board of Education is expected to approve the use of those surplus hours in response to the school closures of Feb. 5 and Feb. 6.

A similar system appears to be in use at Springer Public Schools. Superintendent Cyntia Hunter said her district also has extra hours built into the academic calendar. “[t]hey do provide the option to utilize those hours/days in the future for emergencies such as excessive illness due to flu, hazardous facility issues, or other weather related events,” she said in an email. Springer schools still have about three days worth of extra hours remaining in the school year.

In the event that a school falls below the 180-day or 1,080-hour threshold, time must be made up to comply with OSDE regulations. Wilson Public Schools still have extra hours available on the school calendar in case classes must be cancelled again, but Superintendent Tonya Finnerty said a plan is already in place if that happens. “If additional inclement weather occurs, we would be required to attend on Fridays that we are currently out to make up for any of those missed days,” she said.

Lone Grove Public Schools also has extra hours built into the school year but Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller said that officials want to keep those hours available. As a result, the school board approved a plan last week to add a few extra minutes to the school day beginning next month. “Our High School and Middle School campuses will add 8 minutes to the end of their days and the Primary and Intermediate will add 5 minutes to the end of their days,” Miller said in an email.

If the extra days that are padded into academic calendars aren’t used, school doesn’t necessarily dismiss early once 1,080 hours are met. “The worst thing that can happen is our kids receive additional days of instruction if we don’t need them,” Holland said.