Winter Weather Shortens Spring Break for Watauga County Schools

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Extending the school year by 11 days, school on a Saturday, and the conversion of a teacher workday to a day of instruction have not been enough to keep spring break fully intact for the Watauga County Schools. School officials have announced that the first two days of spring break – Monday, March 30 and Tuesday, March 31st – have been changed to regular school days. As of now, schools will be closed for spring break April 1-3.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said the decision to shorten spring break was made with considerable reluctance. “We know students, employees, and their families place a high value on spring break and that they want to preserve it if possible. We have taken that into account in this decision and have shortened spring break as little as we could without sacrificing too much instructional time or extending the school year into the third week of June. If we were to strictly follow the original makeup plan for this year, we would be cutting four days out of spring break at this point. We have instead sought a more balanced approach by using two days of spring break as makeup days and shortening the second semester by two days. We believe this decision helps to preserve instructional time while respecting the interest of our families and school personnel in keeping as much of spring break as possible.”

The principal alternative to shortening spring break and reducing the length of the second semester is extending the school year into the third week of June. However, adding school days in June would affect families and school personnel in much the same way as shortening spring break, and would extend the school year past high school graduation on June 13th.
Lengthening the remaining school days was also considered, but this option is not considered an effective use of instructional time and does not address the central issue of making up snow days.

“Logging enough hours of instruction is not really the main concern for us,” notes Accountability and Federal Programs Director Dr. Wayne Eberle, whose duties include overseeing development of the school calendar. “We can meet the state requirement to provide 1,025 hours of instruction even if we don’t make up any of the time we missed last week. However, our teachers and other 10 month employees legally must work a certain number of days. Having our teachers work longer days does not help meet the statutory requirement for how many days they must work. We should also bear in mind that a schedule of fewer and longer school days has the effect of cutting pay for employees such as cafeteria workers, custodians, and bus drivers.”

Dr. Elliott pointed out that much of the current dilemma with the school calendar originated with the revised school calendar law that first took effect for the 2013-14 school year. “This is just our second year under the new law and the ending date for both years is the latest on record, even without an unusual amount of snow. If we have a truly severe winter, the school calendar will become an even greater problem.” Elliott said there is widespread agreement among NC educators and boards of education that the legislature should amend the school calendar law to restore local authority to determine the starting and ending dates for schools.

Under the current school calendar law, the Watauga County Schools cannot start school before the Monday closest to August 19th.

With most of March still ahead, Dr. Elliott said the district has to be prepared for the prospect of additional inclement weather. “While we very much hope we’ve seen the last school closing this year, we know winter is not over. If additional closings are necessary, the first option for making up that time will be to open schools on Saturday. When that is not possible, additional snow days will be recovered by a combination of shortening spring break, reducing the number of days in the second semester, and, as a very last resort, lengthening the school year to June 15th or later.”

As of February 27th, the last day of school for students is June 12th and the last workday for teachers is June 17th.
Schools have been closed 17 days this year for inclement weather, slightly above the annual average of about 15 days.

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