Each Winter, usually in February or March we create and set the school calendar for the upcoming school year. In fact the Superintendent's council and I will sit down on the 10th of February and begin the process for next school year and the Board usually adopts that calendar in March or April of each year. Each calendar must have 174 student attendance days and 180 teacher work days and an additional 5 emergency days built into the calendar. Typically, you would see those emergency days built in on the last five days of the calendar and as we use emergency days we change those calendar dates to attendance days, extending the school year for each "snow day"we use. At the point that the district uses all the emergency days the new calendar would show that students would be dismissed 5 days later than expected. Also, after the 5 emergency days are used the district can begin requesting "ACT OF GOD" days. If Act of God days are approved students are not required to attend any longer than the original 5 emergency days and the School District's General State Aid is not reduced. While we are on General State Aid, the number of days your students attend is very important to the district as the average daily attendance is a very important factor in determining the revenue the district receives on a yearly basis. Long Story Short, we really need your students in attendance, but I digress.
Back to the Calendar, we have used 5 emergency days so our expected last day for student attendance, at this time, is June 3, 2014 rather than the original date of May 27, 2014. We are planning on holding High School Graduation on May 30, 2013 as previously planned, but Seniors will need to take final exams on May 27 and 28th. We are still considering when is the best time to hold Jr. High Commencement since they will be required to attend until the June 3, 2014 date. If we have more school closures between now and the end of the school year, it is likely the Board will choose to use those ACT OF GOD days and if that is the case the last day of student attendance will remain June 3, 2014. If the Board chooses to extend the school year rather than use AOG days then the final day will be determined by the number of days we are dismissed from school between now and the end of the year. One complication that we are very aware is the semi-annual Band and Choir Trip, which is set to leave on June 6th. I'm sure we will utilize AOG days so that we don't complicate the trip.
Ok, now the decision making process we use to close school because of weather related issues. I guess I would start by saying there is no set guideline or policy that the PORTA District follows. I will say that at-25 degrees wind chill I am very concerned about the safety of our students, especially when I see our youngest students on a daily basis showing up to school with only a hoodie on or lite jacket. So, when we hit those marks of -25 degrees or above you can expect that we may cancel school. Most often snow and unsafe roads are the main issue. The process I use to determine if we have school begins with me driving many of our bus routes and worst roads to determine safety. Sometimes it only takes me a matter of minutes to make a determination, others an hour or more. During my driving time I usually talk with all the local Superintendents, road commissioners and County Commissioner. All of the driving and discussion takes place prior to 5:30 AM because as a rule I like to make the decision by that time and get parents notified. Of course, depending on the timing of the weather we may make that decision earlier or slightly later, but not much later. Once the decision is made to cancel school I create a SchoolReach call, notify all supervisors and each of those individuals have a specific task to complete as well, some of which might be calling radio and television or starting a phone tree. We have to consider what events are occurring and when, how we can reschedule those events and how much time and manpower it will take to make the parking lots and sidewalks safe before we allow anyone in the buildings.
Closing school because of extreme weather is a matter that we take very seriously. In the end we want to balance the need to have the students in class with there overall safety and well-being. Attending a few extra days at the end of the school year is much easier than having students placed in danger in a bus accident or getting frost-bite while walking to school or waiting for a bus.
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