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February 6, 2014

Snow days disrupting school calendar

NEW CASTLE — Mother Nature and Old Man Winter are toying with the school calendar.

The New Castle district canceled classes again Wednesday because of the impending snow and ice storm that hit the area.

Single-digit and sub-zero temperatures, along with snow and ice, have prompted the district to cancel five days so far this school year.

District officials now want Old Man Winter to go away. They are worrying that any more cancellations could push back graduation in June, and there still is more than a month of the season to go.

The district has maxed out on days it could use as snow makeup days, superintendent John J. Sarandrea told the school board Monday.

He said it’s been many years in Pennsylvania that one school year has had even four snow days.

So far, five days have to be made up, he noted, when typically, two or three makeup days are factored into the original school calendar.

“We’re at the point where we’ll be tacking days on to the end of the school year,” Sarandrea said.

In an email Wednesday, he noted that is “not a problem yet, but any more days will make it an issue.”

The district then will be faced with the problem of getting enough instructional hours in for seniors, and therefore, moving the graduation date.

If classes need to be scheduled on June 9, 10 and 11, the district would be unable to have commencement June 6 as scheduled, because it would lose the state subsidy for the seniors on those days.

The district cannot use Presidents Day, Feb. 17, as a makeup day because custodians have a holiday and would have to be paid time-and-a-half if they have to go to work, Sarandrea said.

“Easter break has now been decimated,” he added. The district has scheduled snow makeup days for Holy Thursday and Monday after Easter during Easter break, leaving Good Friday as the only day off school, he said, and June 6 also will be a makeup day.

While rescheduling might interfere with some people’s vacation plans, Sarandrea warned teachers they cannot use sick days to go on vacation, and if he finds out, they will be in trouble.

“Saying you’re ill on a day when you’re not is a bad thing.”

He pointed out Feb. 18 will be designated as a makeup day for a Hurricane Tuesday — a teacher growth day — that was missed when school was canceled Jan. 28.

Sarandrea said the district decided to cancel school Wednesday after he participated in a webinar and conference call with the National Weather Service and viewed updated snow and ice forecast maps.

Typically, area superintendents start discussions about school cancellations or delays a day or two before predicted weather issues, he said.

“Since we are all different, we all have different concerns.”

All the schools try to decide together, he said, but there are times New Castle decides differently because it has a lot of students who walk to school. As a result, sidewalk conditions and cold temperatures are considered along with road conditions, he added.

Student safety takes priority over everything, Sarandrea emphasized, and inconveniences are addressed later.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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