Snow days extend school year for students

Students across the region will be going to school a week deeper into June this year because of the high number of snow days used this winter, including two this week in some towns.

Superintendents take into account road conditions, whether trees have been knocked down and if homes are without power when deciding to cancel or delay the start of school.

"Often, it is not about the number of inches of snow," Preston Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said Thursday. "This year has been challenging because of the intensity of some of the storms and the time of day they were predicted to hit our area."

Most superintendents said the number of canceled school days has been higher than in recent years.

"To have nine school days already affected by weather is high," Waterford Superintendent Tom Giard said. "We haven't had too many blockbuster storms this year, but it's more a nuisance and really bad timing. Everything's been right at daybreak."

In some districts, the high school graduation date has been changed, too. Norwich Free Academy has changed graduation and the last day of school from the originally scheduled June 12 tentatively to June 20, if there are no additional cancellations.

Groton Superintendent Michael Graner said his district has had seven snow days, pushing the last day of school from the originally scheduled date of Wednesday, June 13, to Friday, June 22 — the same day as graduation.

Rescheduling graduation “would really be a problem,” Graner said. “Not only would it be a disruption to children and families, but I know there are some kids that are going off to college that week, literally.”

The district typically averages three or four snow days per year, Graner said. But he noted it’s been “extremely difficult for forecasters to predict” this year, and that a few storms have “just arrived at the wrong time.” 

Seitsinger, in his first year in Preston, said the eight canceled school days and two delayed-start days are the highest number of weather-related school cancellation days in his career. Preston's last day of school now is slated for June 22.

Not all the canceled days in Preston were the typical snow days. Preston lost days for high winds that knocked out power and caused damage on roads, along with ice and snow.

Being a small district without its own high school and specialized special education programs, many Preston students are bused out of town to multiple schools throughout the region, "so travel, safety, sibling relationships, among other issues, must be considered," Seitsinger said.

New London has moved its last day from June 11 to June 18 for most of the district's schools. Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School, which sustained water damage in January due to a burst water pipe, will finish on June 19 if it does not make up an extra day before the end of the year.

Norwich Public Schools Superintendent Abby Dolliver said Wednesday was the sixth canceled day this winter, an abnormally high number. Norwich's last day of school — for now — is June 20.

Norwich Free Academy has had seven canceled school days thus far, and has had to push the last day of school to June 20.

Waterford has seen six snow days and three delays, pushing back the final day of school to June 20.

Giard cited Wednesday's cancellation as an example of "going on the best data available to us at 4:30 a.m. Obviously, when you get into March, you want to get on with the school year and into spring."

If more snow days occur, the Board of Education will re-examine ways to reschedule rather than having the school year extended into July, he said.

In Montville, where the last two nor'easters have knocked out power for thousands of residents, Superintendent Brian Levesque called it "one of the higher years I can remember" when it comes to cancellations.

Montville schools have shut down seven times, with two cancellations during a storm in the fall and five total snow days.

The last day of school is now backed up to June 21, Levesque said.

North Stonington Superintendent Peter Nero said that the weather this season has been "probably the weirdest weather I've seen in a long, long time," citing the erratic mix of heat and storms. He added that the storms are "really crippling and closing schools."

However, he also said it's not uncommon to have bad weather affecting school days, with weather delays and cancellations common throughout the last couple of years.

North Stonington canceled school Wednesday and Thursday because of downed trees and households without electricity.

Recently, the school board had scheduled June 20 as the last day of school for the elementary school, and June 18 as the last day for the high school and middle school. However, with the two latest cancellations, those dates have been pushed to June 22 and June 20, respectively.

Ledyard Superintendent Jay Hartling said that at the start of the year, the district had built in five snow days, and using slightly more than those five days is not "super abnormal." After canceling twice this week, though, Hartling said the district is now on its eighth canceled day and the last day of school should now be tentatively scheduled for June 26. At the start of the year, the original last day was June 14.

Hartling also noted that he thinks this year is not much of an anomaly compared to the last four to eight years, mentioning hurricanes in years past and an October snowstorm that knocked out electricity across the state.

East Lyme Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said his district tallied eight inclement weather days — already three or four days more than an average school year.

"Higher than most years but let's not forget that we lost two days in October due to high winds," Newton said. He added that he doesn't anticipate an issue with graduation, unless the district gets a few more snow days.

The Board of Education will set a graduation date at its April 9 meeting.

Lyme-Old Lyme has closed schools due to weather six times this year, compared to last year's two closings, according to Jeanne DeLaura, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

The district totaled five cancellations during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, and in 2012-13, the district had nine cancellations between October and March.

The district normally adds the snow days to the end of the school year. Since students have a 183-day schedule, the district has some flexibility in scheduling graduation on the 180th day of school, DeLaura said. The Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education will set the graduation date at its April meeting.

Stonington has had six cancellations this year and those days have been added on to the end of the school year in June. The last day of school, which is graduation for the high school, now is set for June 21. The changing date of the graduation has caused problems for organizers of the alcohol-free graduation night party as they try to book a venue.

At Thursday night's school board meeting, parent Sue Jones urged the board going forward to add eight makeup days to the end of the school year and set a concrete graduation date so families can make plans and avoid out-of-town relatives having to change travel plans when the graduation date is changed. Superintendent of Schools Van Riley incorporated Jones' suggestion into the 2018-19 calendar, which the board approved Thursday night.

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