The cancellation of school days at the beginning of the school year because of Tropical Storm Irene could leave school districts in a bind if this winter’s weather causes more days off.
Some school superintendents say even as few as three snow days could force them to hold classes during their district’s April school vacation.
Stratford and the three districts making up Amity Regional District No. 5 -- Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge -- canceled four school days because of the tropical storm. Branford and Milford lost three days; East Haven, Hamden, North Branford and North Haven lost two, and Cheshire lost one.
The cancellations were forced by power outages at schools and fallen trees that blocked school bus routes. Although the tropical storm hit on Sunday, Aug. 28, restoration of power and removal of fallen trees in roadways wasn’t completed in most towns until the Labor Day weekend.
“It was a very unusual opening,” said Woodbridge Supt. Dr. Gaeton F. Stella. “Who could predict you’d lose four days right from the start?”
The situation has the districts counting the days they have left to extend the end of the school year.
Last year, an unusually high number of snow days caused school calendar chaos. A repeat of that would be a major headache, officials said.
Most school districts used to wait until after Labor Day to start the school year. But after the unusually snowy winter of 1995-96 caused havoc with their school calendars, districts began starting the year during the week before the holiday.
Some of the districts have already adjusted their 2011-12 school calendars. Stratford, which was scheduled to start school on Aug. 30, waited until Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day. School Supt. Irene Cornish said that pushed the last day of school from June 14 to June 20.
But the school calendar and teacher contracts required the last day of school to be no later than Friday, June 22, and state regulations mandate districts to hold at least 180-day school years.
“So we have two days left for snow before we have to start deducting days from the April vacation,” Cornish said.
It gave so many school districts scheduling problems that many of them asked the state Department of Education (DOE) for waivers of the 180-day mandate. But acting education commissioner George Coleman sent a message to all districts informing them that no waivers would be granted, Cornish said.
State DOE spokesman Mark O. Linabury said the department has not received any waiver requests this year, and that it would be premature to even consider them at this time.
“We’re operating under the assumption that we must have a minimum of 180 days,” said Milford School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser.
Feser said Milford has extended its school year from June 14 to June 19 to make up for its three storm cancellation days. Since the district can’t extend the school year beyond June 22, that gives them only three snow days before beginning to deduct days from the April vacation.
He was happy with the result. High school students accepted it and even the younger children stayed engaged in their schooling until the end, he said.
“It went better than I thought,” Serio said.
The districts in Region No. 5 have attempted to find a common solution for the problem. Orange School Supt. Tim James said that makes sense since the three districts have a single school bus contract and send all their students in grades 7-12 to the regional middle school and high school.
They don’t have the same school year lengths, however. Bethany has 180 instruction days, Orange has 181 and Woodbridge and the Regional District have 182.
“We’re all trying to do something similar,” James said.
James said he and the other superintendents would keep their fingers crossed that this winter isn’t a repeat of last year, when there was at least one snowstorm per week.
“Last year was an anomaly, but you never can tell in New England,” he said.
Do you think Stratford schools will end up extending the length of the regular school year due to days lost to Tropical Storm Irene and snow days? Tell us in the comments section below.