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Schools lose out to winter again

On the day Spotsylvania County schools hoped to start making up time lost to snow by adding 25 minutes to each school day, another storm blew through the region and closed all area schools.

The roughly 5 inches of heavy, wet snow that fell Monday is forcing school administrators across the Fredericksburg region to re-evaluate their calendars again. In many cases, school calendars have already been changed to add makeup days.

Most local school divisions will open late today.

Spotsylvania and Culpeper schools have missed 15 days so far. Students in Stafford have been out of class for 17 days.

Fredericksburg schools have missed 13 days and Orange County students missed 14.

King George County school officials couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, but have said they have five makeup days built into the calendar and can meet state requirements by having classes on one teacher workday and going all day on two scheduled half-days.

Even students at the University of Mary Washington have missed class time because of snow. All three campuses were closed Monday. Administrators at the university waited until the afternoon Monday to cancel evening classes, hoping conditions would improve.

Spotsylvania Superintendent Scott Baker called this winter “hard to compare.” In addition to extending school days the rest of the year, the division has amended its calendar twice, changing half-days to full days.

But instead of making up time Monday, the division lost it again.

“It has delayed what we prepared for,” he said. “Last week was the first week in a long time without delays or closings.”

Some area students were supposed to begin taking writing tests for the Standards of Learning on Monday. At Chancellor Middle School in Spotsylvania, though, administrators pushed back the March 17 test date to March 24 and 25 before snow became a threat to SOL testing.

Spokeswoman Rene Daniels said administrators at that school wanted to offer students more instructional time before testing since so much had already been missed.

Stafford schools spokeswoman Valerie Cottongim said some county schools had scheduled SOL tests for Monday and today. She said because the tests are now given online, they are easier to reschedule.

The Spotsylvania School Board will take up further calendar amendments at its next meeting on March 24.

The Fredericksburg City School Board will talk about adding back instructional time when it meets tonight to approve its budget request for the next fiscal year.

The Caroline County School Board was originally scheduled to have a budget work session Monday night, but that meeting was pushed back to tonight because of icy conditions.

Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education said that since the divisions are given a testing window of three to four weeks for SOLs, instead of a concrete test date, no tests will be missed.

“I have heard of a few, though, who are testing later in May, instead of early May [to allow more time for instruction before SOLs],” Pyle said.

Schools boards in the region, including Stafford, Spotsylvania and Caroline, have asked whether the Department of Education can waive the required 990 hours of instructional time required in a school year since some of the snow days were during a statewide state of emergency.

But Pyle said the school boards have to prove they’ve exhausted every available option—which includes spring break, Saturday classes and extending the school year—before a waiver will be considered.

So far, the department has received no formal waiver requests this year.

Pyle said no school division in the commonwealth has been immune to snow troubles this winter.

“We’ve been here before,” he said. “This is not the first time we’ve had a snowy and icy winter and it won’t be the last. … School divisions have lost a lot of time, but it is better to lose time and have to make changes than to put children at risk.”

He said that though some parents and students have been frustrated with the frequent closings, he believes that administrators are making right decisions.

“They err on the side of safety,” Pyle said, “and that’s what they’re supposed to do.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976