Act of God? Schools must decide what to do about lost snow days

News-DemocratJanuary 16, 2014 

While many metro-east schools have applied for an "Act of God" exemption to avoid having to make up their lost snow days, others are looking for alternative solutions to missed school.

Some districts lost as many as six or seven days to the snowstorm and bitterly cold weather earlier this month.

The state requires that schools build in a minimum of five snow days for their schedules. Districts that use more than those days can apply for an "Act of God" exemption so that they do not have to make up the days and will not lose state aid for them.

To qualify, school must be canceled for reasons beyond the control of the school district and that threaten students' health and safety. The regional superintendent of schools and the state superintendent must approve the applications.

So far, at least 10 districts in St. Clair County and two in Madison County have applied for the Act of God exemption.

In St. Clair County, they include Belle Valley District 119, Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative, Brooklyn District 188, Cahokia District 187, Freeburg District 70, Grant District 110, Lebanon District 9, Millstadt District 160, New Athens District 60 and Pontiac-William Holliday District 105.

In Madison County, Edwardsville District 7 and Granite City District 9 have applied. However, assistant regional superintendent Andrew Reinking said the districts have 30 days to apply, and others may do so.

Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said district officials are still determining whether to apply for an Act of God day or not. The district has used six days of the five it built into the calendar, and will discuss the matter at its board meeting Tuesday.

East St. Louis District 189 will likely apply for one day's exemption as students were out for six days due to the weather and broken pipes, according to spokeswoman Kim Roberson.

"If we have to go out again for inclement weather, we may have to meet to decide what to do: whether to cut out holidays or apply for more Act of God days," Roberson said. "That has not been decided yet."

Several administrators are wondering what to do if another snowstorm hits.

"We don't know what the rest of the winter is going to bring," said Grant District Superintendent Matt Stines. "It's hard to say how many Act of God days we'll have to use. It all depends on what the winter looks like."

Jonathan Tallman, superintendent of Red Bud Community Unit School District 132, said he's recommending the school board alter the school calendar this year to have an attendance day March 3 on Casimir Pulaski Day rather than a holiday to make-up one of the emergency days used. Then the district will apply for one Act of God day through the Monroe-Randolph County Regional Office of Education, according to Tallman. District 132 had five emergency days built into its calendar, and the district has used seven thus far.

Other schools plan for more snow days than the state minimum. O'Fallon's District 203, 90 and Central 104 have built in 10 days and have only used six.

Collinsville Unit 10 builds in seven school days, all of which must be used before they can apply for Act of God exemptions. So far Collinsville has used six days.

Collinsville Superintendent Robert Green said that it was an intentional decision to plan for more days that would have to be made up.

"One year we missed 10 days, and we felt at that time that even though five days were forgiven legally, it was not the best thing for students," Green said.

At Triad District 2, five days were scheduled and six were used, so the district will apply for an exemption for one day, according to Superintendent Leigh Lewis. While there has been no discussion of planning more days in the future, Lewis said they want to explore more "innovative" ideas like online learning to continue education when school is called off.

"A lot of kids have Internet access at home," Lewis said. "Whenever you lose instruction time, you should try to make that instruction up ... The 11th-graders lost five days of instruction before high-stakes tests. When you look at instruction in January and instruction after Memorial Day in May, there's a difference.

"A better use of our time is to look at ways that when kids are out of school for inclement weather or health reasons, they still have access to instruction."

Granite City Superintendent Jim Greenwald said while the district will apply for one Act of God day, he wants to look at alternative instruction methods for future snow days.

"I like the idea, and naturally schools try to implement as much technology as possible," he said. "I think it's a good idea and a good concept."

A local Catholic school implemented just such a program this year. Gibault Catholic High School required all students to log on to their computers and do at least five hours of schoolwork a day during the snowstorm. Gibault has a one-to-one computer initiative where all students are required to have a laptop, netbook or tablet computer.

Meanwhile, Edwardsville parents were told in a recent district letter that due to the loss of instructional days, other interruptions such as field trips and assemblies may be reevaluated. Parents were asked to reconsider any unnecessary absences from school.

"Let's all do our part to keep our students in the classroom and on task," the letter read.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at jforsythe1@bnd.com, or 239-2562.

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