Area schools are in a tough spot right now. Winter has melted their calendars. They’ve missed a lot of days, and making up the classroom time isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Ottumwa students have had eight snow days so far this year, and it’s hard to argue with any of the cancellations. There are years when the decisions have been debatable, but not this time. When overnight temperatures hit -21, it’s dangerous for the students to be waiting for a bus or walking to school at 8 a.m. When there’s ice or six inches of snow, it’s too risky to have them out on the roads.
Ottumwa received 15.2 inches of snow in November. Winter took a break in December, with only a trace of snow falling, but returned with a vengeance in January. A whopping 21.1 inches fell during the month, along with arctic cold. February has already seen about 2.5 inches of snow, and the timing has meant more days off.
All told, this winter has brought 38.7 inches of snow to Ottumwa. By way of comparison, the average winter total is 24 inches. And there’s more on the way. Meteorologists count winter as December-February. This season is already in the top 20 for all-time snowfall. If November was included it would be in the top three.
If the Ottumwa school district just tacks the snow days onto the end of the year, students will finish on June 12. We agree with the school board members who would like to find a way to get students out before then.
There are options. In prior years the district has extended the school day by a bit. That happened with the winter of 2009-2010, when the district had nine snow days. An additional 30 minutes per day was enough for the district to strike a deal with the Iowa Department of Education and get out on June 7. We’d also take a hard look at whether some of the early releases on Fridays can be eliminated.
This winter hasn’t just hit southeast Iowa hard. It has been a tough one for every district in the state. There’s good cause for the state to look at helping districts find creative solutions so they can still get students out by a reasonable date.
What is confounding about the situation is that this isn’t the first time it has happened, nor is snow in an Iowa winter an unforeseeable event. Building in a small number of anticipated snow days would seem to be a better solution. While even a modest number — say three days annually — wouldn’t be a full solution in a winter like this, it would provide a buffer. And in the majority of years it would be sufficient to cover the unplanned days off.
The bottom line is that there aren’t any perfect solutions. Nothing is going to satisfy everyone. Cut off part of spring break, and there will be families who complain that the change cuts into previously-planned activities. Extend the year, and families who planned to get away right after school let out are in a tough spot.
With luck, we’re past the worst of the winter. Luck hasn’t been on our side, though, and it would be foolish to think we won’t see more snow.
Let’s just hope it’s not enough to force area districts to cancel classes on additional days. They’re in a tough enough spot as it is.