Mississippi Should Rethink Its Snow Days Policy

rebelWith 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.

58 Comments

  1. Richard curtis

    Great article and I totally agree

    Reply
    1. Keith Davis

      I also agree with this article, I grew up in Mississippi and it was never this bad, snow days, unheard of in Mississippi.

      Reply
  2. Sally O'Brien

    I totally agree with this article.

    Reply
    1. jacomans (Post author)

      Thank you both!

      Reply
  3. Sherry

    This is a great article and I agree but why should they have to make up the snow day
    school goes long enough now

    Reply
  4. Mary Rose

    When school started this year my kids day at Hernando Middle School was extended to a longer day than last year and we were told “the longer day equals a full week of school altogether at the end of the year.” So if this time is not for snow days what is it for?? We did not start school later in the year, nor do we get out earlier??? Why are we wasting our time sending our kids to school for a longer day if it has absolutely no beneficial effect???

    Reply
    1. jacomans (Post author)

      Excellent point, Mary Rose!

      Reply
    2. Anita

      Totally agree with this article. Teachers that are teachers, can get job done!

      Reply
  5. Tina

    just an FYI… Not all of Mississippi’s superintendents are elected…

    Reply
    1. jacomans (Post author)

      Thanks! I apologize and have corrected it, hopefully…

      Reply
      1. Amanda

        Even those who are not elected have to worry about their image in and popularity with the community.

        Reply
    2. Steve Blackmon

      She did say “most”, or is that the correction she mentions in her reply?

      Reply
      1. jacomans (Post author)

        Steve, yes! I adjusted it based on Tina’s feedback.

        Reply
        1. theartguy
  6. Linda

    Our DCS begins at 8:05 and we are dismissed at 3:40, so we have a 455 minute day. Way over the required.

    Reply
  7. Linda

    Our DC school begins at 8:05 and we are dismissed at 3:40, so we have a 455 minute day. Way over the required.

    Reply
  8. Brenda Luckett

    Our students begin their day at 7:30am and end at 2:45pm. Is that enough to not need extra days in May?

    Reply
    1. jacomans (Post author)

      Well, technically, if they go to school in Mississippi, it doesn’t matter if they go til 5, it doesn’t do anything for them, heh.

      But under the minutes guidelines used by other states, it would matter how many actual instructional minutes they have, so you subtract lunch, breaks, and class changes.

      I don’t have much experience at the elementary level. Might want to ask your principal if you’re curious.

      Reply
  9. Rita Wilson

    I live and teach on the MS Gulf Coast. We rarely have ice/snow days on the coast but we do have hurricane/bad weather days. I think that we should not have to make up these days if we are doing our extra time during the day. If the policy is changed, it should be for bad weather period (snow days, hurricane days, tornadoes, floods, etc.)

    Reply
    1. jacomans (Post author)

      I completely agree! Flexibility is the key, I think. We should have a policy that is flexible enough to respect each district’s unique situation.

      Reply
  10. JWest

    Great points, James! I have to agree. Nice to see your post being passed around!

    Reply
  11. Aimee

    I remember one year it started to snow and the district people jumped the gun and decided to close schools early. By the time my sister and I got home all of the snow had already melted. A few days later it was snowing again (before school even started) and the people at the district decided to wait it out. By the time they decided to close schools ealry, the roads were iced up. Our bus had gotten stuck on a hill and was sliding backwards and parents had to come and find the bus and get their kids. We had to make up BOTH days even though it was the district’s fault on calling one when they shouldn’t have and not calling the other when they should have. Why we’re we getting punished for their lack of judgement?

    Reply
  12. Kim

    I have two daughters that will graduate in May in Education. One daughter is doing her student teaching in Mississippi and the other in Alabama. The daughter in Alabama does not have to make up her Snow days because the governor declared it a “state of emergency”. I think this is a great idea. This was a great article.

    Reply
  13. Amanda

    Interesting look at instructional time data.
    Thanks for those numbers.

    Reply
  14. Amanda

    Have you sent this to our policy makers? Numbers 1 and 2 are powerful when considered together. I hadn’t considered these until you pointed them out so perfectly. I also like what you said about us not being allowed to have a union. Glad you threw that in there…maybe send this to MAE as well. They still do work closely with policy makers.

    Reply
  15. Ranae Caldwell

    Thank you for writing this!!! Changing our snow day policy
    Is WAY overdue!!! Hopefully changes will be made! Using common sense!

    Reply
    1. Michael K

      We actually can have unions (AFT is a union that is active in Mississippi)…. It is just that we have no collective bargaining rights after the 1985 teacher strike. MAE, while it provides great services and advocacy and does great work in Education, is not a union — it is a professional organization. The difference is in the fact that administrators can join MAE whereas in a union, the administrators are not allowed to join since they are representatives of the supervisory system.

      This is a good article that brings up some good points. We had similar situations in the southern part of the state when Hurricane Katrina devastated the lower third of the state. Elimination of the 180 day rule would also allow districts more flexibility in scheduling such as having extended days and allowing a 4 day work week. By doing so, it would allow for significant cost savings in busing and cafeteria services. Contact time rather than contact days really does make a log of fiscal sense.

      Reply
  16. Nikki

    This is a great article. More parents with this opinion should bring it to the next board meeting!

    Reply
  17. Jim

    Thank you for writing this. I enjoyed your article. A very well thought out & written take, but in reading this, it brought up a few questions & concerns. The main problem I see with “make up” snow days is how they are utilized. It is a complete waste of time & money to make up snow days by having the kids do nothing but watch movies & play games. Just as “half days” are wasteful as well. Rushing kids through their block schedule so you can hurry up & feed them, allowing it to be considered a full school day is a joke too. In point 1, you spoke of instructional time. If a student plays a sport, they lose out on “instructional” class time as they spend 1/4 of their day doing nothing educationally directed. Also, Juniors & Seniors are allowed to leave school for “work release”, where’s the education in that? They definitely aren’t getting the full instructional time allotted either. I’m curious as to how many students county-wide actually receive the full allotment of instructional minutes (taking into account the sports, which isn’t educational, the work releases, the office and library aides/helpers, etc.). Point 2 I have no issue with. Point 3 to me is irrelevant & more of an extreme hypothetical question. We go to school approximately 10 months out of 12. Only 2 of those months do we truly have to be concerned about winter weather effecting the schedule. Due to this, I don’t believe the 3rd point has any validity in the argument. Mississippi needs to rethink their entire approach to public education & how they deliver it, not just making up snow days. I apologize if I have come across as rude or ignorant. I’m just tired of hearing people complain about making up snow days when we are (as a state overall) continually ranked as one of the “dumbest in the US. I’m proud & glad that my kids all attend/attended school in Desoto County, but even here, I feel we could do so much more educationally for the kids than we do. Utilize our class/school time better, offer more types of classes, teach more. But it always seems like in the fall it’s a sprint to “Friday night lights” and in the winter it’s “let’s have a snow day cause at the end of the school year we’re only gonna watch movies anyway.” Have a good day.

    Reply
    1. jacomans (Post author)

      This post is by no means intended to represent my only thoughts on how to improve Mississippi education. Please check out nearly all of my other posts.

      You’re absolutely right. There are many other more important steps to fixing our education system. This blog post is about improving our snow day policy. It would be pretty irrelevant in my opinion to give my thoughts on Common Core or science education here, but… Stay tuned! 🙂

      We’ll just have to disagree about the instructional time. Time for extracurriculars is built in and assumed as important to the 330 minute requirement. That doesn’t necessarily mean adding more days is better.

      And I think you’re way off on safety. It doesn’t matter how many days of the year you actually get ice and snow- if a bus with your kid slides off the road, it’s relevant.

      But thank you for posting some very thought provoking stuff! I think you’ll find some of my upcoming posts a lot meatier than this one was. I hope they’ll be more to your taste.

      Reply
      1. Samantha

        Actually, any of their extracurricular activity time is used during their break in high school.

        Reply
    2. Tamara

      Personally, I believe all of America needs to revamp their public school education system. In short, our schools are lacking in solid teaching on the core subjects that will really prepare our kids for college/life. You know. The 3 “R’s”; reading, writing,arithmetic? Currently, much time is wasted on subjects, projects, and so on. If the public school system took the same approach as the homeschooling folks did it with their kids (and they are some of the best students I’ve seen since I left the public school system) they wouldn’t need all those hours in the school buildings and it wouldn’t cost us, the tax payers, so very much.

      Reply
      1. Amanda

        Tamara, could you share the data you used to draw conclusions about what schools are lacking? Also, I’d be interested in seeing the legitimate research you’ve read at shows only “the 3 Rs” prepare students for college. I’m not familiar with research that supports either claim.

        Thanks in advance.

        Reply
    3. fay

      I am from the baby boomer generation. We only went to school 8 months and produced some of the best & smartest people in the world. Why does it take 2 months longer to do the same thing now?????

      Reply
  18. Karen

    Great article! OMG!!! I just figured out that my school is over 300 hours per year longer than what is required! I taught in TN for 5 years before moving to MS to teach. We didn’t always use our snow/weather days but it was a relief to have them. Knowing that my students wouldn’t be in danger getting to/from school and that I didn’t have to leave home 30 minutes early to white-knuckle drive on potentially icy roads made my life happier!

    Reply
  19. Amanda

    I also agree with this article. A friend shared it after I made a comment on Facebook about not having snow days built in. 2 of the “makeup” days had already past when Jack Frost came to visit. I hope that whomever makes the decision on make up days or not reads this first.

    Reply
  20. Christy Wilson

    First year of retirement after teaching in Ms public schools for 30 years. Any make-up days are non-constructive-instructional days. They destroy the attendance counts for that month, which translates into less money for schools. Half the students do not come, if not three-fourths. Teachers mark the time with busy-work, review, and a ‘day-before-a-holiday’ approach. I always liked the 60% Saturday days as make-up days so that I could work on the next wk’s. preparation, usually having only one-tenth of my class show up( 30 students =3). Nothing happens by extending the day except longer recess and absolutely nothing is gained by adding days in June. The only thing that happened when days are taken from Easter or Spring Break is a decline in teacher moral. Students are still not there. 180 days are required but we have taught 190+ for years and years.

    Money spent on salt bags and labor to salt a few roads, but mostly bridges, would prob be cheaper than entire districts adding days. Most of our ‘snow’ days are really ‘ice mornings’ so starting later has shown some new wisdom. Hoping some of the students we old birds taught 25 yrs ago are now the adults that came up with that ‘think-outside-the-box’ solution.

    Once we sold our souls to testing, the constructive-instructional days ended the week of testing. It really doesn’t matter what the calendar states, the last wk of school is now the first wk of May.

    Reply
    1. Christy Wilson

      typos:
      happens
      ‘snow days’

      Reply
    2. Mollie

      Testing will start on March 17th due to snow days. We will test until school gets out in May. All testing will be done on the computers. When does instruction end now? Well, it’s over. Teachers will be pulled to either proctor or administer the required tests no matter what grade they teach. Who will be in the classrooms while we “watch” for test improprieties? Whom ever we can find! Will instruction take place? Not likely. There will also be NO MOVIES and NO RECESS because these activities will not be conducive to the testing climate. The entire school must be quiet. So 1st and 2nd graders will be given a lot of worksheets and no exercise time while the rest of the school is being tested.
      I am very dismayed that testing will cause me to NOT be teaching and that my students will be kept “busy” the entire last nine weeks of school and we will have to make up 3 “snow” days. However; I am JUST A TEACHER. What do I know????? GRRRRRRRRRR.

      Reply
  21. Ann Vance

    This is a very good article. I need to preface my following remarks by stating that my mother was a math teacher back when real math was taught.
    Over the years I have watched my children’s and my grandchildren’s actual knowledge decline.
    They can’t spell doddly, and honestly I think they get that from me because I have never been a
    good speller either! The big difference is simply that I had to dig through a dictionary until
    I found the correct spelling (and still do) and they never have had to do that.

    I’ve watched my grandchildren go through an educational system that allows a child of illegal mexicans to be honored as president of the spanish club. Really?? At the age of 45 I went back to college and watched as the young ones could not operate without a calculator. I’ve seen people who cannot make change at a cash register. When I graduated we used the dewey decimal system and when I went back I learned how to use a computer.
    I also think we all should consider some type of year round school with scheduled short breaks that could be customized for any part of the country. I also think that the worst thing that has EVER evolved to today’s educational system is passing children when they cannot do the work. I dooms them to failure, frustration and withdrawal from the normal social system. I a child cannot do the work/ pass the test, the child and or the teacher has failed.

    Ok, enough of this! What do you think?

    Reply
  22. Eve Bell

    Great article Jamie!!

    Reply
  23. Claire

    You should send your blog/article to the Clarion Ledger editorial section. Our state legislative officials read it daily. Here’s the email address: http://mailto:letter@jackson.gannett.com/

    Reply
  24. Claire

    You should send your blog/article to the Clarion Ledger editorial section. Our state legislative officials read it daily. Here’s the email address: letter@jackson.gannett.com

    Reply
  25. Robyn

    I understand about the students not making up the time. The only issue with the teachers is our state constitution. Our state purchasing laws clearly say that the state cannot pay for anything it did not receive. Therefore if the teachers do not work their contracted days they will not get paid for them. That goes for anyone that works in the schools. I’m pretty sure the teachers want and need their money . If they would just understand that if they don’t make up this time they will not get paid. therefore the complaining about making up days will be over. Now to the issue about wasting time, that is a supervisors problem. The supervisors should make the makeup day useful. Training for the teachers or if the kids are there make it a full instructional time. No movies, no siting in class doing nothing. If the teachers don’t take the time to make it a good useful day for the students then that is not a very good teacher in my eyes. They get paid to teach so no day should be wasted when it comes to students being in the class.

    Reply
    1. Amanda

      I don’t know of any classrooms that waste instructional time like that. I don’t think that is as big of a problem as you are describing it to be.

      Reply
  26. jacomans (Post author)

    Right, Robyn! I’m talking about changing things at that level. Maybe so that the state actually purchases classroom instructional time instead of work days. I’m not exactly sure how other states do it, but it’d be worth us looking into, wouldn’t it?

    Is this the conversation where we address the fact that teachers work overtime hours for free? 😉

    Are you a teacher? Parent? Other?

    Reply
    1. Robyn

      I’m not sure how other states do it and yes it’s worth looking into. The thing that concerns me is when you start breaking down teachers work day like that it could possibly cause a decrease in pay for teachers. We all know teachers don’t make enough as it is. From my understanding of teacher pay is that 1. They are salary based 2. No they do not get overtime 3. They are required to work the contracted days in order to get full pay. 4. Pay can increase with adding administration/ gifted degrees etc..: the amount of the base pay is set by the MDE and school board. This pay includes “extra” time that a teacher may put in after schools hours. ( this sucks but it’s part of it) salary people never make over time and that’s just how it is. If you shorten the time that teachers spend in the class you can essentially take away their pay. Remember when some coastal lawmakers wanted to start school later in August??? The lawmakers couldn’t do it because it shorten teachers time and therefore teachers September checks would have been smaller than normal. I actually think the school districts should have extra days already scheduled at the end of the year for bad weather days. If you do not have any bad weather days during the school year then the teachers and students go home for summer sooner. Just an idea..

      Reply
      1. Robyn

        My last post cut off… I have been with the my school district for 6.5 years. I am currently housed at central office in the business department.

        Reply
        1. jacomans (Post author)

          Good idea! Thanks for the thoughts.

          Reply
          1. Amanda

            I hadn’t thought about how this could impact pay! Let’s face it, our lovelies down in Jackson would love to cut teacher pay.

            This post has opened up some great discussion. That’s a good thing. We should find out how other states handle this.

            I think it’s always good to look for a better way, but teachers cannot afford to take a pay cut. I know many teachers who are barely making ends meet.

            Someone with some legal/policy expertise should weigh in here!

          2. jacomans (Post author)

            I think it’s accepting a “slippery slope” fallacy a bit much to assume changing a snow day policy would result in decreased pay.

            Let’s accept that the plan requires more research, but you can certainly build the proposal to specifically protect teacher pay.

  27. ju

    When I was in high school in MS, my school extended our short Tuesday for the remainder of the year to avoid making up snow days at the end of the yr. I know short Tuesdays no longer exists but that was fine with the state then.

    Reply
  28. holly

    Wonderful article and I agree 100%

    Reply
  29. Amy

    This article should be emailed to every school administrator and board member in the State of Mississippi. Excellent points. I think what bothers me the most is that the make-up days are only about funding – i.e. having a warm body in a seat. Very little actual learning takes place on those days.

    Reply
    1. jacomans (Post author)

      Yes, except that it’s not a local decision; its a state law. So the administrators and school boards have no say in it.

      Reply
      1. Amy

        Yes – I should have been more clear. What I meant by “board member” was the MS State Board of Education. All administrators should read it as to see the standpoint of a parent who has clearly put thought and research into it. I just find it frustrating that these “make up” days are not about quality learning but rather about putting bodies in seats. Tennessee has it right…as of this morning, Shelby County has only used 4 of the 9 banked snow days. No “make up” days for them.

        Reply
        1. jacomans (Post author)

          Agreed!

          Reply
  30. Lynn

    Desoto County teachers were informed this a.m. that 5 days will have to be made up even though students were forgiven snow days. This will obviously run into the first week of June. Most teachers have vacations and family matters planned. At what point do teachers have any freedom? It is not possible to take vacations during the school year. It’s high time teachers were able to include the countless hours spent on the job that they are never paid for. (3 day field trips with no sleep / 2 and 3 hours after school almost daily, etc.) Go ahead and pay the salary as is. However, in this situation, allow teachers to clock in and out whenever they are working in order to keep track of all unpaid hours. The unpaid hours can be applied to snow days when they occur and no one has lost anything.

    Reply

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