Changes made to school calendar

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County Schools plan to make as few changes as possible as they comply with a new state law that expands the school year by up to 48 weeks.

Superintendent Suzan Smith said Monday that the 2014-15 school calendar likely will have more out-of-school days “built in” to lessen the chances of the school year going long and affecting people’s summer vacations.

“There is no movement (in Hancock County) toward a balanced calendar or year-round school,” Smith said. “We are sticking with the traditional calendar that we’ve had because that’s what we’ve heard people want.”

The school board is developing a calendar policy in light of Senate Bill 359 – a wide-ranging education reform law that changes the length of the school year in West Virginia from 43 weeks to 48 weeks.

The bill, passed by the West Virginia legislature in 2013, means that local school districts have up to 48 weeks to reach the required 180 instructional days and to make up any days lost to weather.

About 30 people – mostly teachers and parents – attended a legally-required public hearing on Monday at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center.

Smith stressed that the law does not mandate a 48-week school year but rather gives school boards the flexibility to use up to 48 weeks.

The law also requires school districts to make up days in which there were delays or early dismissals, Smith said, noting that the first and last days of the 2014-15 school year will not let out two hours early.

This year, Hancock County Schools have had 11 snow days and four days with two-hour delays because of inclement weather.

“This year has been wicked for us,” Smith said. “I’m hoping we don’t have a winter (in 2014-15) like we did this year.”

The district is making up six of the 11 snow days – four during spring break (April 14, 15, 16 and 17), one on May 12, the Monday before the primary election, and one on June 6, previously scheduled as an instructional support and enhancement day for teachers.

Thus, June 6 will be the last day of school for students.

Also at Monday’s hearing, Smith discussed the results of a district-wide survey on the school calendar issue:

* 86.7 percent of the respondents said they prefer that makeup days be “built into” the school year rather than added on at the end.

* 83.4 percent said they prefer school to start on the week of Aug. 18-22.

* 82.2 percent said they prefer Thanksgiving break to be from Nov. 26-28 (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday).

* 85.2 percent said they prefer winter break to be from Dec. 22-Jan. 2.

* Respondents also said they prefer a spring break that lasts from March 30-April 6, 2015.

Smith said the 2014-15 calendar must be completed by May 1 and should be available to the public by June.