With all the hullaballoo going on in Mississippi over the weather, the cancellation of school days has gotten people saying some really crazy things about how we’re supposed to make up the lost time. My district, Desoto County, just announced a cancellation of tomorrow’s classes, making a grand total of 4 snow days and 2 early dismissals. Most of the solutions involve students and teachers having to come to school later into the summer, and some have even suggested coming in on Saturdays to make up time we’ve lost to the evil Jack Frost.
We’ll of course do as we’re “asked”- hey, it’s not like we’re allowed to have a union- but let’s put one thing to bed right now: Not only should teachers and students in Mississippi districts like Desoto not have to ever worry about Saturday school, they shouldn’t have to make up one stinkin’ minute of this time off.
I’ll tell you exactly why.
1. Making up snow days is unnecessary.
Mississippi requires school time be made up based on the number of days missed rather than the actual amount of instructional time students have lost. Mississippi demands 180 calendar days of school, period. Several other states, including Tennessee, just want to make sure the students get the time with the teachers, whether it’s in calendar days or minutes added to the schedule. Some school districts in our area, including Desoto County, already have enough instructional time built into the schedule to more than make up for the time lost. The problem with our policy here in the Magnolia State is that unlike our counterparts in Tennessee, districts in Mississippi will still have to make up the days.
For example, Mississippi requires that each school day contain 330 minutes of instructional time- 27.5 hours per week- 990 hours per year. We wholeheartedly support the need for students to get their due time with teachers. But Desoto schools are in session for 384 classroom minutes a day, plus lunch and break, or 32 hours per week. When you total it up, DCSD schools will provide 1152 hours of instructional time for students this year- a whopping 162 hours above and beyond the 990 required by the State of Mississippi. That means Desoto County teachers will provide 25 extra school days’ worth of instructional time that Mississippi does not require them to provide, but they’ll still have to make up the snow days the kids were out.
And when will this time be added? Almost certainly to the end of the school year- more “May days.” Ask any teacher how much meaningful instruction will be added by extending the school year into the summer- after state testing is over, after classes have run their course, after students can already smell the beach in the air. They’ve had enough school already! Let them go home!
Many school districts adopt schedules that provide plenty of instructional time already- let’s come up with a snow day policy that respects that.
2. Making up snow days is a complete waste of taxpayer money.
Schools have operational costs. You have to run buses to pick up kids, and diesel ain’t free. Lights have to be turned on. Heaters and air conditioning units have to ventilate entire buildings (remember- these make-up days often come in the heat of Mississippi summers). Whether it comes from the general education fund or from local taxes, it costs taxpayers extra money to get these kids from their homes to the school buildings so that they can stare out the windows and wish they were still at home.
For just one example, Desoto, Mississippi’s largest school district, has 42 schools. That runs up a steep operational cost. DCSD’s 2015 Budget allots $14,262,806 for transportation alone. That’s $80,627 per school day. To run the buses. Yes- For this one district alone. After Desoto’s students have already been at school 162 hours longer than they’re needed- learning, test prepping, reading, test prepping, writing, test prepping, studying, testing, testing, testing, and (FINALLY!) DONE in May, we the taxpayers will be required to send them back for what I’m sure they all secretly want- MORE school, to the tune of over $100,000 a day. As a state, we “can’t adequately fund” our schools, but we can fund this?
Come on. They don’t need it, we don’t need it, and we could be spending the money elsewhere.
3. Making up snow days is more dangerous than the alternative.
Superintendents and district safety officers have to monitor weather reports and road conditions in order to make incredibly important decisions about the safety of their students and staff members. They have to gauge the evidence for dangerous road conditions and make the best decision they can about whether to call off school or not. That means it’s possible for them to make the “wrong” call (meaning simply unpopular) when weather ends up fine, but they already decided to cancel school. In this case, those affected by their decision might have to make up the day later knowing they could have already knocked it out.
Many of Mississippi’s school superintendents are elected. Now- let me be crystal clear: I am not saying that this has ever actually happened, but would you want your child attending a school in a district where somewhere in the back of a decision maker’s mind, subconsciously, he knows his popularity is at stake while he’s checking the weather report? I know it’s silly, but it could happen. However, if we simply allowed our decision makers the freedom of not having to make up snow days, we take that factor off the table. The decision is solely about safety.
Mississippi’s teachers and students deserve better than a blind policy that ignores hard work if it doesn’t eat up another calendar day of the year. It’s reckless, it’s expensive, and some school districts just don’t need the extra days to get the job done. It’s time we rethought our snow day policy. Let’s look at each district individually and do what’s best for the kids locally.