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‘We’ve used up that time’: School districts apply for state waiver as snow days run out

(KKTV)
Published: Mar. 10, 2020 at 7:48 AM MDT
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With some of the snowiest months still on the horizon, several southern Colorado school districts tell 11 News they’ve applied for a waiver from the state.

If the Colorado Department of Education approves a school district’s application for a waiver, that means the district does not have to make up missed time if there are more snow days.

Colorado Springs School District 11 was the first district to apply and receive a waiver from the state.

“We’ve never applied in the past, and we actually just started to realize that it’s getting worse and worse,” said Devra Ashby, D-11’s public information officer. “It seems every winter we get more and more snow.”

Under

, each school must be in session for a minimum of 160 days, including half-days. At the elementary level, students are required to have 990 hours of instruction. For middle and high school students, they have to be in class for 1,080 hours.

Before applying for the waiver, Ashby said D-11 was starting to get concerned that the upper grade levels wouldn’t meet the state requirement.

“Every school year, we have a calendar committee, and that calendar committee builds in time for inclement weather delays and closures, and this year, we’ve used up that time,” she said. “We are concerned about our middle and high schools now that we’re going into March and April, which tend to be very snowy months in Colorado.”

According to our news partners at

, D-11 has had more than 6 days’ worth of cancellations and delays.

“We’re in a little bit more of a predicament than some other school districts because we also have contracts with our teachers as part of the Colorado Springs Education Association,” Ashby said. “So with those contracts come obligations that we have to fulfill to make sure we give teachers their planning days.”

That means D-11 can’t necessarily turn teacher in-service days into actual school days with students as a way to make up missed time.

Ashby said several schools did add extra time to their days before D-11 applied for the waiver.

“Some have added five minutes at the beginning. Some have extended at the end. Some have taken time away from their PLC or learning time on Wednesdays, late start times at the high schools,” she said. “So they’ve gotten very creative with how they’re adjusting for time.”

The district also considered adding additional school days to the calendar.

“Nobody wants to think about Saturday school, and really, the return on investment and kids not showing up for that day of school, it’s not really worth it. We’d actually have to build in the cost, again, and it’s costly for students that wouldn’t be there. So is it really worth our time? Is it worth the effort when we know a lot of our student body wouldn’t be in our classrooms anyway? So we have to consider those things,” Ashby said. “We have pay our hourly employees. We have to account for the food preparation and the additional food cost, as well as utilities and the extra utilities costs that we’d have to look at.”

In order to be granted a waiver from the state, the Colorado Department of Education said districts have to show they’ve made “a good faith effort to make up lost time,” according to an email from the state.

“If after making reasonable changes a district is still short of instructional hours, a district can apply for a waiver of the instructional hours,” the email stated.

CDE said 10 districts applied for waivers last school year, and two applied for the 2017-2018 school year.

“We did apply for a waiver and let the state know, ‘Hey, we’re looking at all these different ways to add time. Here’s what we’ve already done. Here’s what we’re prepared to do, but just in case we have an anomaly of snow days in March and April, even May sometimes, we’d like the waiver,’” Ashby said. “And so, they did grant us the waiver.”

Now that D-11 has been granted a waiver, the district no longer has to make up missed time to meet the state’s hourly requirement.

“So what we told our schools was that if you’ve already added time, keep your calendars the way they are. Keep your schedules the way they are, but if we get more snow days from this point on, we won’t have to add a day or add minutes across the board, across the district,” Ashby said.

Moving forward, D-11 said it’s considering other ways to keep students engaged even when school is cancelled for snow days, including e-learning days.

“Students would do homework online, but it’s also a little bit more creative than that,” Ashby said. “It’s also sort of having students be prepared for their assignments if we have a storm on the horizon, just be prepared for their studies while they’re at home, so even if they don’t have access to a computer or if they don’t have access to the internet at home, just that they can be working at home on some assignments.”

11 News reached out to all the school districts in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Harrison School District 2, Widefield School District 3, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 and Manitou Springs School District 14 all said they applied for the state waiver for some or all of their schools.

Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, Academy School District 20, Lewis-Palmer School District 38, Falcon School District 49, Pueblo City Schools and Pueblo County Schools all said they have not and do not plan on applying for the waiver at this point.

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