Hed: Students making up for February vacation
By Monique Harrison
February’s ice storm was a dream come true for 9-year-old Lilly McMillen.
“You could go out and play in the snow, and you didn’t have to go to school,” the Mantachie Attendance Center fourth-grader said, smiling. “It was a lot of fun.”
But McMillen had to pay the price for February’s fun last month, when Itawamba County Schools extended class for an additional hour in an effort to make up the five days missed because of the ice storm that paralyzed Northeast Mississippi for about a week.
To make up that time, Itawamba students arrived at school at 7:45 a.m. and left at 3:45 p.m. for two weeks.
“It was pretty bad,” McMillen said. “It felt like it wouldn’t end.”
“I was tired and hungry at the end of the day. It was really long,” added her sister Molly.
Required 180 days
The extended sessions are just one of the ways Northeast Mississippi districts have worked to make up days missed during the storm that kept most students out of the classroom for an entire week.
Most area school districts required students to attend school the Monday after Easter in an effort to reach the 180 student days required by the Mississippi Department of education.
Some students were also required to attend school on Good Friday. Exceptions were made for students who could not attend school that day because they wished to attend religious observances.
Many districts have also altered their May calendar, requiring students to now attend school on the May 27 observation of Memorial Day.
Districts typically schedule at least two bad weather days into their school calendar. The days are tacked on at the end of the school year, and students are not required to come if no days are missed because of bad weather or other problems.
“Most years, our students don’t miss school at all,” said Calhoun County Superintendent DeWitt Spencer. “Those bad weather days aren’t even used, then. But this year, we didn’t have enough scheduled. It happens, occasionally. But it’s certainly not a regular occurrence.”
Some districts were able to make up the days missed by elementary school students without altering the calendar at all.
“We made up some of our time in the lower grades by cutting out recess time,” a spokesman for Tishomingo County Schools said. “With some of the older students, we were able to do it by cutting out breaks for several weeks.”
Teacher work days were transformed into regular school days in several districts, allowing students to meet state attendance requirements.
Seniors, who are typically dismissed from school about three days before their younger classmates, were required to make up their missed days before being dismissed. State regulations require seniors to attend 177 school days.
Less enthusiasm about vacation
Some students originally scheduled to get out of school on May 24 will now see their school year extended as late as June 3.
In most districts, including Lee County Public Schools and Tupelo Public Schools, school board members have expressed a willingness to work with students whose parents had made concrete vacation plans before realizing the ice storm days would extend the school year.
The calendar changes have made some students less enthusiastic about their unanticipated February reprieve from the classroom.
“Before, students really wanted it to snow so they could miss school,” said Mantachie teacher Janice Yielding. “But now, they realize that those days have to be made up, and that at times, that can be tough. I don’t think they’ll be wishing for snow or ice for awhile.”
Still, Mantachie junior Jessica Dunn said February’s unplanned vacation was worth the long hours last month.
“I enjoyed it because I was really tired of school then,” Dunn said. “I’d rather have a break like that and then go a little longer after the break.”