The Trouble with Snow Days

Districts must follow complicated formula

By Chip Rowe

Children love snow days but soon learn an important life lesson: Everything has a price.

State law requires public schools to have students in class for at least 176 days between Sept. 1 and June 30, or risk losing state aid. In New York, a “day” is defined as at least five hours of classroom time for kindergarten through sixth grade and at least 5.5 hours for grades 7 to 12. (In other words, half days don’t count.)

When planning each year’s calendar, districts add days to cover for weather cancellations. But depending on Mother Nature — or what is expected from Mother Nature at 5 a.m. in the morning — they can fall short. By the time the last of four snowstorms hit the Highlands in March, the Haldane, Beacon and Garrison districts had used all their planned days and begun to “take back” vacation.

Illustration by Jeffrey Koterba

Assuming there will be no snow days in April, Beacon has reclaimed one vacation day (the Friday before Memorial Day), Haldane two days (March 23 and April 2) and Garrison three days (March 29, April 5 and April 6).

A proposal before the state Board of Regents, which sets the requirements for public districts to receive state aid, would change the minimum instruction from days to a total of 900 hours for grades K to 6 and 990 hours for grades 7 to 12.

If adopted, the revision would allow districts to count half days and schedule longer lunch hours, recess periods and/or parent-teacher conferences without having to meet minimum instruction hours for a day to “count” toward the 176-day requirement.

The state Department of Education has also suggested allowing districts to start the school year before Sept. 1.

The Board of Regents, which has 17 members who each serve 5-year terms, was expected to consider the change from days to hours at its March meeting but did not. The Highlands are represented on the board by Judith Johnson, a former superintendent of the Peekskill City School District. She did not return a phone call and an email seeking comment.