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February 18. 2014 9:14PM

Snow days aren't eating into NH school vacation


On Birches Road in Surgar Hill, the snow was piled deep enough to excavate a snow cave. (Mickey de Rham Photo)

School officials around the state are cautiously optimistic there are enough snow days built into the calendar to avoid extending the school year, but they're keeping a close eye on the weather, just in case.

On Tuesday, many students spent their mornings in class but were shuttled home early as the latest winter storm to hit New Hampshire moved in. Though kids have had a number of days off due to stormy weather, officials are not concerned that school will still be in session come the Fourth of July.

"I can tell you that I am tired of the snow," said Mary Ellen Ormand, superintendent of SAU #2. "However, I do live in New England and should just be used to it."

The magic number is 5

Superintendent Phil Littlefield of SAU 15, which serves Auburn, Candia and Hooksett, said the average number of days missed due to weather in his districts is five, which is exactly the number of snow days used thus far this year.

"There are so many years that we seem to use exactly five," he said. "Sometimes many are used at the beginning of winter, sometimes at the end, but five seems to be a consistent number."

Paul Dargie, chair of the Milford School District, said five days of snow is typical for his district. But Ormand said SAU 2 encompasses towns in three counties; snow day use varies.

"In the Inter-Lakes School District, we have missed four days due to the weather," she said. "In Ashland School District, we have missed five days due to the weather."

"SAU 16 usually has an average of five snow/weather related days per school year," Superintendent Mike Morgan said. "So far, we have had four."

In Goffstown, Assistant Superintendent MaryClaire Barry said the administration and school board are paying attention to the weather since there have been five days without school, but they aren't ready to make any plans about extending the school year.

"We're watching the number of snow days," she said. "As we move forward, we'll be having those conversations if we need to."

And what happens next is anyone's guess, said Littlefield.

"We could come back from February vacation to spring or another month of winter," he said. "You have to love New England."

Blizzard bags

Dr. Judy Fillion of the New Hampshire Department of Education said there are options in place for school districts if storms continue to bear down on the state.

Some districts have opted to use a "blizzard bag" program. Relying on the Internet, teachers can assign work, answer questions, and keep their lesson plans flowing. Students who don't have access to the Internet can be given paper assignments.

However, school districts that want to use the blizzard bag program have to have plans approved by the commissioner of education and ready to go long before the first snow flies, Fillion said.

Measured in hours

School districts also have a bit more flexibility in how they make up their snow days. Instead of adhering to a strict 180-day calendar, the school year can also be measured in hours, said Fillion. The minimum number of hours in a school year is 450 hours for kindergarten, 945 hours for elementary school and 990 hours for middle and high school. School districts are also expected to add 60 hours to their year to make up for bad weather — which equates to around 10 snow days.

On days like Tuesday when many schools sent their students home early, the hours they spent in class count toward the total needed for the year; the same is true with late starts.

In Milford, Dargie said the schools follow a 180-day calendar with an additional 10 days worked in for weather-related closings. The calendar far exceeds the minimum number of hours required by the state, which can come in handy if snow, or in some years, flooding, closes schools. If the district still has plenty of hours and snow days left, the school board can actually vote to end the school year early. Last year, the board was able to eliminate the last day of school — a half-day that fell on a Monday.

Morgan said an Aug. 26 start to the school year gave the Exeter-area schools more flexibility.

"We are in good shape for just another New Hampshire winter," Morgan said.

In Pittsfield, Superintendent John Freeman said missed days are tacked onto the end of the year.

"We are now only two days beyond our planned last day, so we're not concerned at this point," he said.

nfoster@newstote.com


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