VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WJLA) – On winter mornings such as last Saturday in this sprawling resort city that moonlights as a military town, when summer-season tourists have yet to descend upon – and clog – the roadways, the living is easy.
Which brings us to the aforementioned last Saturday.
A school day.
It was, in a word, jarring.
School buses, crossing guards, strictly enforced school-zone speed limits and backups at intersections. Not to mention a whole lot of unhappy students, teachers and parents, according to myriad news reports.
What usually takes about two minutes to drive from my mom’s house in the Kempsville area of the city to a nearby convenience store instead took at least 20.
It was the city’s way of dealing with school days lost because of snow, and five such days were lost from Jan. 22-31.
So with the D.C. area having experienced similar if not considerably worse bouts of winter weather this season with snow days piling up, could schools ultimately have to follow the lead of Virginia Beach?
Short answer: A qualified but nonetheless resolute no.
That’s the word from the District, Fairfax County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Loudoun County, Prince William County and Arlington.
Although all the school systems have their own methods for dealing with makeup days, from using holidays to adding days to the calendar, Saturday schooling is pretty much off the table.
“There’s never been any discussion about it,” says Montgomery County schools spokesman Dana Tofig. “Plus, a lot of our buildings are very frequently used on Saturdays for a variety of events.”
More blunt is Loudoun County schools spokesman Wayde Byard: “We don’t do snow days.”
And why is that? Here’s Byard’s emailed answer:
1. The Commonwealth of Virginia requires that schools provide a minimum 990 hours of instructional time each school year with each school day being at least 5.5 hours in length.
2. School divisions are required to have a plan for making up a total of 15 days missed because of bad weather or other emergencies. For 2009-2010, Loudoun County Public Schools will operate on a 180-day instructional calendar. Because the length of the instructional day in LCPS exceeds the 5.5 hour minimum, the 15 required “make-up days” are covered in the established school calendar.
3. Loudoun County has had this policy governing the “fixed calendar” since 1990.
4. The fixed calendar means that days missed for inclement weather will not cause truncated vacations, Saturday classes, lengthened school days, or changes in graduation dates. Families are able to set their calendars a full year ahead around the fixed dates.
In another email, Fairfax County schools spokesman John Torre provided the following bit of painstakingly exhaustive explanation regarding snow days:
“We have a 183 day calendar - 180 days are required and the three extra days are built in for weather emergencies and do not need to be made up. The first two snow days were in December; the third snow day ( it was actually a cold weather day) was Jan. 7 so those three days do not need to be made up.
"Weather day four was Jan. 21 and the makeup day was Monday, Feb 17; weather day five was Jan. 22 and will be made up Monday, Apr. 7; weather day six was Jan. 23 and does not need to be made up. In Virginia, school districts have to make up the first five missed instructional days (snow days).
"Then they have to make up every other day until 15 days are missed. School was scheduled to end June 20. Weather day seven was last Thursday and now needs to be made up on Monday, June 23. Weather day eight was last Friday and does not need to be made up. The next snow day, if there is one, would be made up on Tuesday, June 24.”
In other words, we’re not Virginia Beach.
Said Prince William County schools spokesman Irene Cromer: “We have never considered Saturdays.”
Meanwhile, down in Virginia Beach amid the backlash, another vote was held by the school board this week on Saturday makeup days. Approved: two more Saturdays of school -- March 29 and April 26.