After 20-plus snow days, Arkansas cuts school year

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas’ Board of Education offered some spring sunshine Thursday to winter-weary parents: School districts that tallied a month’s worth of snow days won’t have to extend their academic years well into June.

Parents who had to take days off work or arrange extra childcare to deal with school closures week after week won’t have to rearrange vacation plans and summer camps - though between now and Memorial Day, some schools will hold Saturday sessions and teach as many students as show up for classes during spring break.

“We have told parents that we will cooperate with them in any way that we can and provide opportunity for their students to make up their school work.” said Melinda Moss, the superintendent at Harrison, which lost 15 days to snow. “Because we know whether they choose to send their school or not, there’s essential learning students have to master.”

Arkansas’ winter was unusually brutal, with more than a dozen snow or ice storms hitting at least some part of the state between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day. By January, it was clear that many districts wouldn’t meet the state’s mandate that they hold classes on 178 days.

In its decision Thursday, the state Board of Education told 75 school districts that as long as they make up 10 snow days, the rest of their obligation would be waived. Mammoth Spring and Viola missed 23 days, the highest number in the state.

While the waiver helps families that have made plans for the summer, a more immediate concern in some districts is the standardized testing held each April. Tacking days onto the school year doesn’t help students get ready for the annual exams, said Superintendent Robert Allen in Huntsville, which was had 22 snow days.

“It puts a lot more pressure on us and everything especially trying to get ready for the tests,” he said. “Even if you extend the school year, the tests dates haven’t changed.”

Allen said the district has tried opening school on days that it could, such as asking students to come to class on Saturdays. Still, he said, attendance was below average. Moss, too, said she expected many students to be out during the spring break week.

Harrison resident Melissa Cleveland, 33, worries that her daughter Addison, a kindergartner at Skyline Heights Elementary School, will suffer because of the many school interruptions.

“Everything they learn this year is the basis for what they’re going to learn for the rest of their lives,” Cleveland said. “And she’s learning all of that brand-new, and she’s not being consistent with it. It kind of scares me that there’s going to be problems later on down the road.”

Family members were able to help watch Cleveland’s children - Addison and 3-year-old Connor - while schools were closed. Also in Harrison, Mashawna Morton, 32, didn’t have the same support network for her 8-year-old son Keaton and missed two days of work at Home Depot.

“That was very frustrating. … I don’t have money that I can go pay someone 15 to 20 dollars a day either,” she said.

Cleveland said her family is disappointed about children having to attend school during spring break, but they understand it’s necessary. The family had planned to go to St. Louis to visit the Gateway Arch and the zoo.

“We canceled that awhile back, and we’re going to do something closer to home with the family and stuff,” she said. “I think a lot of people kind for a few months ago said they didn’t think they were going to have a spring break. I think we all kind of knew in the back of our minds.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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