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More snow days may cut short spring break for Fauquier kids

Tuesday, Feb. 25 | By Staff
Because of several snow days, Fauquier County students will attend the whole of two early-dismissal days and may come to school on the last day of spring break.

On Feb. 24 the School Board approved changing the two scheduled early-dismissal days on March 27 and 28 into full days for the school division as it seeks to satisfy the state’s requirement of 990 hours of instruction. The board also gave the superintendent the option of making Monday, April 21 (the final day of spring break) a day of school should he deem it necessary.

If no more days are missed in February and March, then changing the two early-dismissal days into full days should be sufficient in meeting the state’s instructional-hours requirement. However, if students miss three more days between now and April 21, then elementary schools would be completely out of banked hours – meaning they would not satisfy the state’s instructional-hours requirement.

While count-wise the middle and high schools wouldn’t need the additional hours that having school on April 21 would provide, this change – should the superintendent opt to make it – would be the same for all Fauquier County Public Schools for two main reasons – recapturing instructional time and providing clarity for families who might otherwise have some children in school and others out of school on the same day. Whether the superintendent exercises the option to make April 21 a school day depends on how many more days are missed, if any, between now and then.

Dr. Sandra Mitchell, associate superintendent of instruction, told the school board Monday evening that, in addition to the calendar changes, adjustments to the elementary school day also remain a possibility. Consideration is being given to lengthening the elementary school day by 10 minutes and trimming recess time by five to 10 minutes. Elementary schools do not accumulate as many banked hours as secondary schools for several reasons, among them (1) a difference in the length of school day and (2) not being able to count recess time as instructional time.

“We don’t want to get down to zero [hours beyond 990] as we approach spring since in the past we’ve missed days in the spring for flooding and other reasons,” said Dr. Mitchell, who tracks the count of instructional hours. “At the end of winter and the beginning of spring, we’d like to have a cushion of hours equivalent to three days of instruction,” she said.

State time requirements aside, there is another equally strong consideration on the part of FCPS administrators keeping a close eye on this year’s calendar.

“As educators we don’t want to compromise the quality of instruction our students receive,” said Dr. David Jeck, division superintendent. “We want to make sure we’re doing what’s right for students.”

Parents should be aware that, regarding next year’s calendar, there is renewed discussion of reexamining the school division’s current practice regarding spring break. It has been the practice of the school division in the past five or six years not to designate any spring break days or other holidays as makeup days, due mainly to the dissatisfaction expressed by parents when such adjustments were made to the calendar in the past. Reclaiming spring break days as school days proved problematic for families that had made travel plans involving air transportation costs they could not recoup. As the school division evaluates possible makeup days for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year, spring break and other holidays (such as President’s Day) may be on the table again as a way to allow more flexibility in making up days. Next year’s calendar currently notes that makeup days are to be determined; if spring break or other holidays become a possibility for makeup days next year, it will be noted on the calendar prior to the beginning of the school year.

Today’s bottom line, according to the school division: The only revision to this year’s calendar at this point is this: The two scheduled early-dismissal days on March 27 and 28 will become full days for all schools. The possibility remains that Monday, April 21 may become a school day if the superintendent deems it necessary.

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