Schools' Schedule in Question

Snow is piled high in front of the Pulaski County High School gymnasium. Superintendent Steve Butcher says the next 36 hours will determine when school will be open next week. 

Alice Cooper didn’t sing, “Schoooool’s out ... for ... winter.” After the snowstorm of 2015, maybe the rock icon should consider an updated version of his hit. Among the many effects of the dastardly weather visited upon the region this past week has been a lack of kids in classrooms.

For school-weary students, the idea of a snow day almost always sounds like a plus. When the snow days build and build upon each other, accumulating like fast-falling flakes, interrupting plans and threatening to push graduation into June ... that’s when there’s a wintry woe.

Fortunately, local school systems aren’t quite to that point — yet.

“The next 36 hours are critical for us,” said Steve Butcher, Superintendent of Pulaski County Schools, on Friday. “If we get a bunch of snow and ice in here Saturday, and Sunday, that could affect us all next week.”

Butcher is hopeful that school in the county district can resume by mid-week, but worsening conditions this weekend could prevent that. Because territory covered by Pulaski County Schools is so vast, reaching into so many rural, hard-to-reach parts of the county, winter weather makes conditions typically too treacherous for buses to travel safely with children, or to expect parents to get out of their houses with kids in tow.

Pulaski County had been fortunate to this point, missing only two days of school. Class was to be out of session on Monday anyway for President’s Day, so being out every day this week has meant four more missed days, for a total of six.

Not a bad total right now — last year, the school system missed 12, which was still much better than numerous other districts around the Commonwealth — but another week in the hole could make things much dicier for the school calendar’s outlook.

“Before this snow, we were going to get out on May 18,” said Butcher. “After this week, we’ll be getting out May 26.”

Miss many more days, and that date could be pushed back further still.

“They won’t let us go to school on Primary Election Day (May 19),” said Butcher. “I really wish they’d reconsider that.”

Of course, last year, the snow days were more spread out, as winter weather kept plaguing the area from December until March. This year, it looks like most of them will come in one nasty, frozen clump, keeping students out for a week-and-a-half to two weeks consecutively.

Is there a preferred type of way to miss school, then? “There’s not really any good scenarios,” said Butcher. “Each way is bad.”

Across town, the Somerset Independent School System deals with fewer challenges due to weather, typically. With most students residing in areas near passable roads, the district has traditionally let out for snow much less frequently than their county counterparts.

This week, however, they were all in the same boat.

“The sub-freezing temperatures and amount of snow have been such a significant event that it couldn’t be simply overcome by the fact that we’re a small district,” said Boyd Randolph, Somerset Independent Superintendent. “We have miles and miles of bus route. We couldn’t safely put buses out or even expect people to safely get in our parking lots.”

Randolph quipped that he sent out an e-mail informing people that the school system had “10 acres of parking lots under 10 inches of snow, and no place to put the snow.”

Before this past week, Somerset hadn’t missed any days of school; because of the holiday Monday, they’ve now missed four. That’s good shape for a school district in this state.

“I think when the calendar is extended, we should still be getting out in the month of May, assuming we don’t miss much more school,” said Randolph.

The last day for students currently listed on the Somerset district’s website’s calendar is May 20.

After such an unexpectedly long time off, sometimes its hard for educators and students to pick up where they left off. Asked if students had anything to work on over the snow period, or if it played out more like a “winter break” to add to the fall and spring breaks, Randolph noted, “That’s what it looks like.”

Randolph was optimistic that it wouldn’t be too big of a problem, however.

“Our students, while they’ve had their routines broken, they’re very resilient,” he said. “I don’t have too much concern that staff or students will be able to move back in. They’ll have to overcome a little bit of inertia, but I’d say, 15 to 20 minutes in, they’ll be back into their routine.”