|For Immediate Release|
|Tuesday, June 23, 2009|
|Contact:||Heidi Guarino 781-338-3106 or JC Considine 781-338-3112|
New Guidelines Released to Clarify When Make-Up Days Will Be Required
Commissioner Urges Contingency Planning In Case Extended School Closures Are Needed in Future Years
MALDEN - Education officials released guidelines this week to clarify when districts will be required to reschedule days lost to inclement weather or other emergencies, and encouraged administrators to consider alternatives to the traditional school calendar to build in additional time in case make-up days are necessary.
These recommendations come at the conclusion of a school year that was interrupted by both the H1N1 pandemic and the December ice storm that impacted Central Massachusetts. Both unanticipated incidents led to extended school closures in districts that later requested waivers from the state's 180-day school year requirement.
"The sudden scheduling changes districts were forced to make this year were disruptive and complicated," said Mitchell D. Chester, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. "I remain committed to the need for all students to be in school for at least 180 days a year, and urge districts to put plans in place that will make rescheduling lost days easier on everyone."
The Massachusetts Student Learning Time regulations require each district to schedule at least 185 days in each school year, to operate the schools at least 180 school days in a school year, and to ensure that all students are engaged in "structured learning time" for a minimum of 900 hours in elementary school and 990 hours in secondary school. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the 185-day regulation in anticipation that at least five days might be lost each year to weather or other emergencies. Waivers can be granted by the commissioner when an emergency or extraordinary circumstance forces the closing of one or more of the district schools.
The new guidelines were developed to clarify when districts will be expected to make up lost time, how much time will need to be made up, and when waivers are likely to be considered. Under the new policy, all days lost between the first day of school and March 31 must be made up; all days lost between April 1 and June 1 must be made up until the district reaches its previously-scheduled 185th day; and all days lost after June 1 will be waived.
Commissioner Chester did not grant waivers to the Central Massachusetts districts impacted by the December ice storm because the storm occurred mid-year, leaving several months to make up the lost days. Superintendents in those districts consulted parents on options for making up the lost days before making recommendations to their school committees.
The schools affected by the H1N1 pandemic were granted waivers because their closures occurred in mid-May, too late to secure parental input in considering options for making up the days.
In a memo to superintendents, Chester encouraged district leaders to learn from this year's experience, and consider revamping the traditional school calendar. Among the suggestions: start school before Labor Day; schedule more than the recommended 185 days; hold a one-week vacation in March instead of February and April vacations; and notify parents and teachers that the winter and/or spring vacations may be cancelled if multiple school days need to be made up.
"I urge district leaders to discuss these calendar options with their communities," Chester said. "These options represent change to the traditional school calendar, but if scheduled well in advance, will likely be preferable to the type of sudden scheduling changes many districts were forced to make this year."