Community column: Rethinking winter school breaks

Fayette County, like other school districts affected by this year’s ice storms, recently received word that the Georgia Board of Education will not require it to make up its “snow days.” However, schools are still trying to get their academic schedules back on track.

Fayette students have lost seven days of instruction due to bad winter weather. The most recent occurred just before the county’s February break, which in past years included five school days off but this year was cut back to three to form a five-day weekend.

However, with the snow days added on, students ended up getting a full week off anyway. It raises the question (again) of why Fayette has a February holiday at all.

January and February are the peak months for snow and/or ice, so most years the odds are good that at least some class time will be lost thanks to Mother Nature. This year Fayette even closed schools because it was unusually cold; no precipitation required.

Granted, it’s better to err on the side of caution when the forecast is truly dire, to prevent the dangerous chaos that ensued in January when schools and businesses didn’t close and the midday exodus left parents and students in some areas stranded.

But just as road crews get sand and salt ready for roads when storms loom, school districts in places far colder and snowier than Fayette are rethinking how to better prepare for snow days and lost instruction time.

Some are using online tools that allow students to access web-based assignments that maintain at least some continuity of lessons. Teachers can remain available by email during the day to answer questions.

Other, lower-tech options include simply having reading assignment, worksheets or related homework pre-assigned and ready for when schools must close.

“Snow days” in Atlanta don’t necessarily involve snow. Ice is more common, and that leaves most folks homebound. If kids are stuck at home, they can still do some work, just like their parents often must.

And even if snow days can’t be avoided, other interruptions can.

I’m surprised how often I hear the February school break defended because “that’s when families go skiing.” Really?

Peachtree City is the proud home of Olympic speed skater Kyle Carr, but our area doesn’t claim many world-class skiers. So the idea that winter sports are a huge scheduling priority doesn’t wash.

With or without snow days this year, Fayette students would not have spent more than two consecutive five-day weeks in class without a holiday of some sort between New Year’s and Presidents Day. So they’re not so exhausted that they need more time off.

I like holidays as much as anyone, but it seems illogical to insist upon a February vacation during the time of year when winter storms are most likely to result in lost school time.

The Fayette calendar already has a February break scheduled for the next two years, but maybe it’s time to rethink that rigidity in light of the consequences of likely frigidity.

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Jill Howard Church has lived in Fayette County since 1994. Reach her at jillptcblog@aol.com

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