Missing school days due to weather, more specifically winter weather, is not a unique problem for Watauga County but it has become more of a hot topic issue.
Over the last several decades, with the increase of people and traffic into the area, how to handle the situation has stirred a lot of debate especially more recently on social media and online. Adding to the issue was a 2013 change of when schools could start statewide. North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation that stipulated that schools may not start earlier than the Monday closest to August 26. Until then schools in the mountain counties had been able to start much earlier in the month, which allowed more time to make up days missed. Bills continue to be introduced in the House and Senate to allow the mountain counties to start earlier again, but none have been able to gain enough traction to pass a full vote from both legislative bodies.
The Watauga County School System is making two changes to deal with the issue of missed weather days.
Under a new plan adopted during the Monday May 11 meeting of the Watauga County Board of Education, a new policy changes the length of time before days can start being made up and when to use Saturday as a makeup day.
Now after just one day is missed the school system can decide to use Saturday of that week as a makeup day. The previous policy stated that 5, or more, days had to be missed before using the Saturday school option.
The new policy also keeps an element from the old policy that has rarely, if ever, been used. Typically if schools were closed on a Friday then the Saturday school option has not been used, which could have been due to a possible variety of reasons and not one single reason. “Saturday school may be held even if schools are closed on a Friday.” the policy includes.
Dr. Scott Elliott, Watauga County Schools Superintendent, tells WataugaRoads.com that the school system has heard from many teachers and parents that they would like to use Saturday school earlier in the make up process. “We will still be very judicious about how we use this option, but it will give us some flexibility.” he adds.
Another plan the school system is considering would be a first for Watauga County, and quite possibly the entire state. “Afternoon School” is a concept that envisions being of great help in avoiding missing days. “There were several days this school year when it was still not safe for buses and high school drivers to travel early in the morning, but roads were much improved by late morning and mid-day.” Dr. Elliott explains. “In those cases, we could start school later and then extend the school day to end later.” he goes on to say.
School officials still need to iron out some details for how it could work, because the plan does have some drawbacks. However Dr. Elliott says if nothing else it is a start of how to combat the issue. “It is an effort to be creative about how to get our students to school and save a day of school.” he adds. “I hear loud and clear that people want us to think outside the box.”
He reminds everyone that the school system will do everything possible to have school every day, and be as flexible and creative as possible to keep school in session. However with the change that weather can bring to the High Country at any given moment, Dr. Elliott adds that “no amount of creativity will change the weather. Every day we have over 700 employees, 45 buses, 600 student drivers, and countless parents who travel our roads to get to school. Their safety has to be our first priority. “
Barring any closings due to Spring rains or floods, currently 17 days have been missed for the 2014-15 year. For a history of closings see Watauga County Schools Weather Closings History.
School officials will begin working on 2016-17 school year calendar year in August.
Below is the full text of the new make up plan.
Watauga County Schools
2015-2016 Make-Up Plan for
School Days Missed Due to Inclement Weather
After one (1) or more days are missed, Saturday (during the week we miss a day) may be used as a make-up day. No more than two (2) Saturdays in a four (4) week period and no more than two (2) consecutive Saturdays will be used to make up days missed due to inclement weather.
There must be a mandatory workday at the end of the year. As these make-up days are used, teachers and staff should keep this in mind. The following days may be used in this order for making up missed days during the 2015-2016 school year:
1. May 26
2. May 27
3. May 30
4. May 31
5. June 1
6. June 2
7. June 3
8. June 6
9. June 7
10. June 8
11. June 9
12. June 10
13. April 1
14. March 31
15. March 30
16. March 29
17. March 28
• Please note that the Superintendent has the discretion to make necessary changes to the make-up plan for various circumstances. Such changes may impact not only the order of days used, but also potentially the last day of school for students and teachers.
• Please note that Saturday make up days may begin with the first missed day. As such the make up plan may be altered. Saturday school may be held even if schools are closed on a Friday.
• There are several ways to get school closing information: email updates, text messages, Twitter, website (www.watauga.k12.nc.us), the snowline at (828) 264-0200, and the Alert Now phone call that goes out to all households from the superintendent’s office.
• The make up plan may be altered throughout the school year depending upon when days are missed in the calendar.