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School districts typically build emergency days into their calendars in case of bad weather. But this winter's relentless snow and bitter cold have some schools reeling. Now, administrators are scrambling to find creative ways to make up for lost time, even as they prepare for more severe weather. NPR's Cheryl Corley has that story.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: What's the most crucial factor when it comes to schools these days? Not tests or transportation or even grades. It's likely this...
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Look at the snowfall totals here. This swath of eight to 12 inches just...
CORLEY: Weather has been key. Even in the Midwest, where winter survival bravado is genetic, schools shutdown as bone-chilling temperatures took hold. Students like these here at Chicago's Wells High School are back in classes now, and superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett says they will see a longer school year.
BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT: I feel very strongly that instructional time can't be lost for our children. And so we will be making up those days. I'm not going to be popular with the kids at all as we extend those days but we will extend those.
CORLEY: In the DeKalb School District, north of Chicago, superintendent Jim Briscoe says they've already used four of the five allotted emergency days. Two came right after the district's winter break.
JIM BRISCOE: You know, it's right before final exams at the high school, so that moved finals exams up. And it impacts extracurricular activities, too.
CORLEY: Adding days at the end of the school year may seem like an easy option. But Patrick Wallace with the St. Louis School District says the snow day pile up - they've used six so far - becomes a problem when it comes to Missouri's mandated tests.
PATRICK WALLACE: So, you know, there's a concern to make up the days in June and they take the test in April. It doesn't really help students learn as much as they can before they're being asked to show what they know on the test.
CORLEY: One possible solution: Well, in Indiana, they are thinking about allowing schools to extend the school day rather than adding extra days to the calendar. In Ohio, it's blizzard bags. Tracey Carson with Mason City Public Schools in suburban Cincinnati says blizzard bags is the district's name for its online learning system where kids log in from home to complete assignments.
TRACEY CARSON: Overall, we've been excited to see it hasn't been busy work. It's been real, real-time, the kind of learning that students would be doing in class.
CORLEY: And to make sure students aren't just surfing the Net, they get a failing grade if the lessons aren't complete in a couple of weeks. If the weather is an inconvenience in the Midwest and Northeast, it's a menace in the South. Students in Georgia won't have to worry about snow days since the state has been declared a federal disaster area. But there are still worries about how less time in school will impact test scores. PTA president Michelle Deusman in Denton County, Texas, says her district may consider Saturday school, extra hours each day, or ask the state for a waiver, which could, again, mean a longer school year.
MICHELLE DEUSMAN: Nobody is going to be really happy with that answer but at the same time, you know, that's life. And that's part of what we have to deal with as adults and we have to help our children deal with those things too.
CORLEY: As more snow and icy conditions move through the South and East, it's a real bane for Stamford, Connecticut superintendent Winifred Hamilton. Her district started using snow days early in the school year because of hurricanes, floods, and other weather-related issues.
WINIFRED HAMILTON: This is the coldest winter I remember that just doesn't seem to let up.
CORLEY: Hamilton says lots of districts in the Northeast are looking at shortening spring break as a way to pick up instructional days. Good idea, she thought, when she used it last year. But...
HAMILTON: We had very poor attendance during the April vacation of students and we didn't have our full cadre of staff. So it wasn't as educationally sound as we had hoped it might be.
CORLEY: So, shortening vacation time, tacking on a few days at the end of the school year, trying online learning - those are some ideas schools are grappling with. The best option, of course, is keeping the schools open, weather permitting. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.