by Chris Harris
Most everyone can remember going to bed as a student, hopeful for a “snow day” in the morning.
There is a point, however, when enough is indeed enough.
That’s where local school systems are now approaching mid-February, as the brutal winter weather Kentucky has seen in recent weeks has put a substantial dent in the school year calendar.
The Pulaski County School System has missed eight days of school so far this winter, including on Monday of this just-begun week.
Always prone to missing more days than the city school district because of the far-reaching parts of the county — and the treachery of the roads there when they become slick — having that many days lost to snowy conditions isn’t necessarily unusual for that school system.
However, noted Pulaski Assistant Superintendent Sonya Wilds, school officials haven’t had to deal with this kind of situation for quite a while.
“The two years previous to this one, we’ve not missed many (days) at all, maybe three or four days (each),” said Wilds on Monday.
The year before that, she added, Pulaski County missed 12 days of school for bad weather — more akin to the way 2013-14 is shaping up.
“We’ve had two very good winters, and we get kind of spoiled when we have a good schedule,” said Wilds. “It’s not unusual to miss this many, but it’s been an extreme winter, mainly because of the cold.”
The past two years, the county system has let out in mid-May, noted Wilds. This year, the original date for the last day of school has been pushed back eight days so far and will now likely be on May 28.
One way to control the delay is to cut out some of the days that were originally scheduled to be out of session. Wilds said that Pulaski was supposed to be out on Monday, February 17 — President’s Day — but now school will be in session as normal that day.
Some days the school must be out of school include May 20 (Election Day) and May 26 (for Memorial Day), but every day that’s missed does have to be made up somewhere, said Wilds.
But it could be worse, she aid.
“There are districts around the state have missed way more than (Pulaski),” said Wilds. “We are actually very fortunate comparatively.”
Monday saw the Somerset Independent School System on a two-hour delay — the third time this year they’ve postponed classes in that way — and have missed five full school days so far.
The last day of school is tentatively scheduled for May 22, said Superintendent Boyd Randolph, after originally being due to get out on May 16.
And while the city school system has missed less than the county as usual, this winter has been far more harsh than Somerset officials are accustomed to in recent memory.
“Talking to folks with a historical context, this is the most missed days since 1996,” said Randolph. “My first two years as superintendent, we missed three days (for weather) — combined.”
Problems caused by the extreme cold conditions haven’t been limited to worrying about road travel, but have also included frozen pipes, affecting schools’ water supply.
“The maintenance and custodial crews have simply worked seemingly non-stop, taking care of issues and problems that have popped up,” said Randolph.
The problem with snow is that it lingers. While Wilds didn’t expect to be out of school Tuesday, she noted that in the more rural parts of the county, snow doesn’t melt for a couple days, causing travel to be difficult well past the original snow.
“The schedule has been pretty disrupted all month,” she said. “It makes it hard on families and kids not to be on schedule. Parents have to make arrangements. People tend to like to be on a known schedule.”
That certainly includes school faculty as well.
“I think continuity is always a benefit,” said Randolph. “You want to keep your instructional sequence moving along toward your goals. Whenever there’s a break in that, you have to recalibrate your plan. In that regard, it’s a distraction.”
Rick Walker, superintendent of the Science Hill School District, said that the small K-8 school in the northern part of the county has missed eight days so far, and is looking at a last day on May 28 currently.
“As of now, we won’t have to get into Spring Break,” he said, referencing the possibility of cutting days out of the annual week-off period so treasured by students and their families. “Hopefully we’ll not have to do that.
Like Wilds, Walker said that recent years have been lighter on snow days than this one, but “it varies.” This winter has just been “cold, dark and long,” said Walker.
“We’ve had more snow days earlier than we would have liked,” he said. “You hate when they happen early because you don’t know what’s coming later.”
The ideal scenario is to avoid having to go into June, said Walker. “Kids start losing interest because they want to be at the water park or whatever. You can’t blame them because summer (breaks) are so short now.”
Like Wilds, Randolph noted that Somerset has had it fairly easy compared to other school systems in Kentucky that have had to miss more days for weather — “We’ve been fortunate,” he said — but as that famous groundhog could tell you, there is more winter yet to come.
“We’re not done yet,” said Wilds. “We’re still got February and March to get through.”