WMBF Investigates: School officials explain snow day decisions

WMBF Investigates: School officials explain snow day decisions

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - It's easy to forget on a warm spring day that this past winter was one of the worst our area has seen in a while. School districts were forced to make tough decisions. In the end, lessons were learned, but not before Mother Nature showed everyone who was in charge.

The first day of canceled classes was on Tuesday, January 28.

The Horry County School Board says it made the decision the night before, after contact with Horry County Emergency Management and the National Weather Service.

"The reports that we were looking at said conditions were going to start at six in the morning," says the district spokesperson Teal Harding.

Conditions actually started 12 hours later, and it was a slow start. In many areas, the roads were fine. That's when the debate and the backlash began.

"There were some days they did not make the right decision," says Harley Williamson, a parent whose child attends Aynor Elementary. "Those children needed to be in school, and the buses could have run."

"Some people said, well, the main roads are fine, but it was the back roads that are not good," says Mary Jo Hayes, a grandparent.

But the Horry County School District didn't want to take chances.

"It would have been irresponsible of us if we had said we're going to put buses on the roads that...credible sources said are going to be dangerous," says Harding.

Four more days would go on with no school due to the weather, and by that time, no one questioned the decisions to close school. Power was out. Trees limbs were iced and down, and accidents were happening on roads around the county. But now the question became, when will the snow days be made up?

Three snow days total were built into the school year's calendar. One of the days had already passed, leaving two, but by the end of the week following that first snow storm, four days had been missed.  Making matters worse, a second snow storm hit in mid-February, closing school February 12 and 13, adding two more days to the list of missed days. In all, most students missed six days total. Aynor and Green Sea Floyds' kids missed seven because their schools lost power.

"What we experienced this past year was just very unusual," says Harding.

With only two days left on the calendar to make up snow days, the district was considering a number of options, but the bottom line on how to make those days up was something the district wasn't prepared to do.

"The board could have said 'Yes, we are going to make them up,' but that would have come at the cost of lots of plans already being made for spring break," says Harding. "It could have interrupted the school year or plans for graduation, or we could have used Saturdays, which we anticipated would have been a very, very low turn out."

In the end, legislators passed a bill that bailed the district out, allowing school districts throughout the state the ability to forgive up to five days.

While this winter was certainly unforgettable, the 2014-2015 calendar is out, and there aren't many differences in the days chosen as make-up days. Next year, October 13, Jan 5, and February 16 have been set aside.

"People want to know how is it going to change for next year," says Harding. "I think given the fact that we haven't had anything like this occur in the last 20 years, there wasn't an impetus to go ahead and start building in extra days."

Harding says early dates are necessary to account for tropical storms, and by law, districts are only required to build in three possible make-up days.  Teachers on 190-day or more contracts have to make up all their days. Some are doing so by attending training and professional development, acting as on-site staff at sports events, or swapping the days for personal time or annual leave.

But what about the students? What did they miss from the lack of school? It's yet another concern from the snow days debacle.

"I don't know if we have the ability right now to measure that," says Harding. "With the agreement that students would not make up the days, we did make accommodations for teachers to get the course content in that would have been lost during those days."

It's a situation no one could have predicted, but it's one the Horry County School district hopes it won't have to repeat.

Take a look at Horry County Schools' 2014-2015 calendar here: http://bit.ly/1fCNT6T

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