Mounting snow days early in the season causing headaches for school officials, parents

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Frequent snowstorms have forced Pikes Peak region school districts to cancel classes more than usual this semester, with winter yet to arrive on Saturday.

While snow days usually produce visions of sledding hills and video games dancing in kids’ minds, parents and school officials may feel more of a headache coming on.

Academy School District 20 in northern Colorado Springs allotted for six days of weather-related closures in this year’s calendar and already has used four and one-third, said spokeswoman Allison Cortez.

Colorado buried in snow: Totals from around the state for Dec. 15-Dec. 16

That’s concerning, she said. “We know most bad weather doesn’t impact us until March and April.”

Rather than wait, D-20 decided on Monday to add 10 minutes to the end of each school day when classes resume in January, to “allow us to finish the school year before June,” Cortez said.

Bus schedules and district-sponsored after-school activities will be adjusted to meet the updated schedule.

Some schools in Colorado Springs School District 11 in the core of the city already have started adding five or so minutes to school days, said spokeswoman Devra Ashby.

The district has taken three snow days thus far, and officials began asking schools that “they plan for extra time this year” after the last snow day, Ashby said.

“Since we are so early in the year to be adding these minutes, we believe we will be OK come May,” she said. “Compared to recent school years, we’ve seen a lot more snow earlier in the school year, and we still have to plan for the second semester — which historically is when we see the most inclement weather days.”

Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument allows for 10 snow days this school year in its calendar and has used five, the most in the fall in the past five years, according to spokeswoman Julie Stephen.

Last year, D-38 had declared just one snow day in the fall semester. The number has fluctuated in recent years, Stephen said, with four in the fall of 2015.

In all, the district, which often gets piles of snow, used 11 snow days last school year, which led to an extra designated makeup day for students to meet state instruction requirements.

Should that happen again, this year’s built-in makeup day is May 8. If the district exceeds 10 snow days, students will have to attend school on that day. If not, only teachers will report for a professional learning day. The school board will make the decision at least a month before, Stephen said.

“It all boils down to keeping kids safe and if the buses can travel the roads,” she said.

Another local district that lies in a snow belt is Woodland Park RE-2 in Teller County, where middle and high school students have had five “virtual learning days” when the district has been closed this semester.

Secondary students receive assignments from teachers and are able to contact teachers by email, said spokeswoman Stacy Schubloom. Students must do the school work at home on a computer or other electronic device for the new instructional format to count as an academic day.

E-days: The beginning of the end of the snow day dance?

Falcon High School in School District 49 in El Paso County was the first school in the area to start electronic learning days in 2017. While students may lament the loss of being able to goof off on a snow day, “It helps academic learning,” Schubloom said. And with this year’s prolific storms, “Thank goodness we have it in place.”

Cancellations can be tough on working parents, many said Monday during an Academy D-20 Facebook exchange.

“School closures are always a big problem because work does not close, and it presents a last-minute childcare issue,” said Bob Reed, the father of two D-20 students. “We have no family in the area, so one parent has to stay home.”

The biggest impact, said parent Yanela Elba, is “the last-minute calls on the cancellation.”

Announcing a two-hour delay and then later changing it to a closure “Makes it extremely difficult to coordinate with work, making it appear as we are ‘those parents’ who aren’t committed to work,” Elba said.

D-20’s policy is to announce a delay or closure no later than 5 a.m., Cortez said. However, when the district announces a delay the previous night, it also has a policy to announce a switch from a delay to a closure no later than 7 a.m. the following morning.

The rationale is to give district leaders enough time to determine whether weather patterns and conditions will shift enough and crews will be able to clear roads and school property in time, Cortez said.

“We do our best to announce delays and closures as early as possible,” she said. “However, we are always weighing our decision with the unpredictability of Colorado weather and the ability to best meet student-teacher contact hour requirements.”

D-20 and some other local districts called a two-hour delay Sunday night. D-20 changed the delay to a closure at 6:15 a.m., Cortez said, and alerted parents by texts, emails, phone calls, social media and news outlets.

Some parents weren’t happy.

E-days: The beginning of the end of the snow day dance?

“When we prepare for the delay, and then you decide to close at 6:30 a.m., that makes it pretty difficult,” said Andrea Morgan Pfisterer. “Especially when roads are a little snow-packed but fine.”

But D-20 parent Amanda Lynn said she would “much rather stay home than risk an accident. It’s a mild inconvenience, but I am thankful for snow days.”

The best thing to do, said Stacey Cruz, the parent of two D-20 elementary students, is, “We just always have a plan in place,” whether school is delayed or canceled.

Parent Jessica Wilkerson agrees. “It’s Colorado, and weather happens. That should not surprise people.”