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Watauga County Schools could use spring break to make up missed days

Heavy equipment works to remove snow after a storm at Watauga High School

Heavy equipment works to remove snow at Watauga High School after a significant snowfall.

After an exceptionally snowy November and December brought a historic number of snow days to the High Country, Watauga County Schools is looking ahead and planning for how makeup days will be utilized going forward into the final — and typically most severe — weeks of winter.

While the approach of February brings us closer to spring, the last few weeks of winter are typically responsible for the majority of Watauga County Schools’ snow days.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said with 11 days missed already, and a reasonable expectation that more inclement weather will occur before summer, the school system is looking ahead and planning for how makeup days will be utilized going forward.

“When we have to cancel school for inclement weather, we first try make up the missed time by using optional teacher workdays that we schedule for the end of the school year, Elliott said. “Once we’ve used all those days — or if weather conditions require teachers to stay at home as well — we then use one of the 10 annual leave days scheduled in our calendar. When we miss a day of school, students then come to school on one of the days that would have been a work day or annual leave day.”

Elliott said if the winter weather maintained its severe pattern for the rest of the season, there is a possibility the system would have to consider altering spring break.

“Unfortunately, in a winter like we’ve had so far, losing some or all of spring break is a possibility,” Elliott said. “We do everything we can to protect spring break, but we are approaching the point where it has to be an option and we want our families to be able to start planning accordingly.”

Elliott said Watauga County Schools places holidays and annual leave days into the week of spring break which can be used to make up student days if it becomes necessary. If spring break days must be used, Elliott said makeup days would be taken from the end of the week first, and would move backward toward Easter if additional days were needed.

“We will absolutely let our families know as soon as possible if we reach the point that spring break must be shortened. We want people to have as much time as possible to make changes to their plans. I always urge parents and staff to use caution when making plans during spring break and up through the middle of June,” Elliott said. “We average around 15 days missed a year, and ending school in the second to third week of June is not uncommon for our area.”

Snow covers Valle Crucis school after a December snow storm

Heavy snow blankets the entrance of Valle Crucis school.

Elliott said Watauga County Schools’ calendar flexibility is limited by state legislation that sets limits on the start and end dates school systems are allowed to set.

“The state’s school calendar law really ties our hands, and we continue to advocate for more flexibility,” Elliott said. “The same rules that might work for Piedmont and Coastal counties just do not work for us in the mountains. When the state law changed and prevented us from starting two weeks earlier than the rest of the state, it essentially meant that we were almost guaranteed to extend our school year into June.”

North Carolina state law requires public school systems to start classes no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26, and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11 unless the county has a waiver from those dates.

Watauga County has a one week waiver for August and can extend the year as much as needed to gain the required days and hours. School systems must complete a minimum of 185 days, or 1,025 hours of instruction. Elliott noted that the local school calendar is built on 180 days since the school system has additional time built into the school day to meet the minimum time requirement. Still, the district attempts attend as close to the 180 days as possible. School was in session 175 days in the 2017-2018 school year.

For more information on how N.C. school calendar law, visit www.dpi.state.nc.us/fbs/accounting/calendar.

Watauga County Schools updates any changes to the school calendar the first day students return from missing school at www.wataugaschools.org/calendar.