HOUGHTON - By law, public school districts in Michigan have to provide a minimum number of class days and class hours of instruction, but excessive snowfall this past winter caused so many class cancellations or shortenings in the state, the Legislature approved giving an exception to the 170 minimum number of days requirement.
However, the legislation, which Gov. Rick Snyder signed last week, still requires local school districts to meet the minimum 1,098 hours of class time requirement, but school officials can now add time onto the remaining class days rather than add days in June.
Before the legislation became law, some of the 13 local districts in the Copper Country Intermediate School District actually started making changes in their school days to allow them to meet the state required minimums.
Carrie Meyer, incoming superintendent for L'Anse Area Schools and current junior/senior high school principal, said that district has the minimum number of classroom days already.
"We now have 175 days," she said.
The district did have to cancel several days this winter, however, Meyer said.
"We had nine fully-cancelled days," she said.
Those nine days were a combination of five full-day cancellations due to snow, four two-hour start delays and two early dismissals, Meyer said. They also had cancellations or early dismissals due to illness and a water line break.
The district was short on hours, so Meyer said since April 22, 13 minutes are being added to each class day. A planned half day in March was instead made a full day, also.
"That gave us an extra 579 minutes, which enabled us to recover the lost time," she said.
The waiver of the 170 minimum day requirement by the just-signed legislation didn't affect the L'Anse Area Schools, Meyer said.
"We knew even if the bill passed, it wouldn't affect us," she said.
Meyer said the planned last day of class on May 31 will be met.
"We will not have to make anymore changes," she said.
Ray Pasquali, current L'Anse Area Schools superintendent, who will retire at the end of June, said having one-size-fits-all law regarding school cancellations is wrong, particularly for school districts in the U.P., where there are cancellations or shortened hours due to weather almost every winter.
"It simply flies in the face of geography," he said. "The U.P. is much farther north than Detroit."
Monica Healy, superintendent of the Hancock Public Schools, said the legislation allowing extending days to meet the 1,098 hours requirement didn't help that district.
"We were in the opposite boat," she said.
The district was fine with the minimum hours requirement, Healy said, it was the minimum days requirement where they had a problem.
"From the very first snow day (we) have, teachers are adjusting," she said.
However, Healy said despite the efforts of teachers, the district did come up short on minimum days of instruction, so there were discussions of extending the school year beyond the planned last day of June 7.
As with the L'Anse Area Schools, Healy said a planned half day of class in March was instead made a full day, which was well-accepted by parents and students.
"We had wonderful attendance then," she said.
Before the passage of the legislation allowing districts to add time to the remaining school days, Healy said the Michigan Department of Education was allowing local districts to use hours from the 2009-10 school year, and that was approved for Hancock Public Schools.
Because of the changes made, Healy said the district is now where it should be for days and hours.
"We are running exactly as we scheduled in the fall," she said.
Darryl Pierce, superintendent of the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, said that district was fine with the minimum days requirement.
"We had to add to the number of hours," he said.
The district has to make up 12 hours, and it's being done by adding time to the end of days, Pierce said.
Horizons Alternative High School, which is part of the C-L-K district, was one day short, Pierce said, but the legislation waiving the minimum days requirement made going beyond the June 5 planned last day of classes unnecessary.
"It takes care of the additional day," he said.