Michigan schools using up snow days as cold drags on
Some Michigan school districts are running out of snow days as an extended cold snap nears two weeks, leading a state lawmaker to propose raising the state’s six-day limit.
After most Metro Detroit districts closed Thursday and Friday last week because of subzero temperatures and wind chills of minus 10 or worse, numerous schools were shut again Monday when the mercury plunged back below zero. Morning temperatures in the single digits or below zero are forecast all week, raising the prospect of still more cancellations.
This harsh winter, the second straight in Michigan, has some educators and legislators arguing for relief from the state’s requirement that schools provide at least 175 days of instruction per year. Because of last year’s polar vortex and heavy snow totals, Michigan district’s missed an average of 9.5 school days in 2013-14.
The Michigan Department of Education won’t know how many days schools missed overall until the end of the academic year in June, but some districts have already reached or exceeded the six days they’re allowed, forcing them to make up classroom time or lose funding.
Earlier this month, state Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, introduced a bill raising the limit to nine days. He argues the extra days would avoid interfering with families’ vacation plans and make student and staff safety a priority.
“It’s a common sense piece that should fit right into the safety of our children and all involved,” Potvin told the Associated Press.
Potvin offered a similar bill last year but it died in committee.
The state’s largest district, Detroit Public Schools, has used five snow days so far and would appreciate the flexibility of extra days, spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said.
“The district would welcome the availability of the proposed additional days, and would use them in the same thoughtful manner we used the six forgiveness days already allowed by the state — in the best interest of our students,” she said.
Officials in other Metro Detroit districts reacted cautiously to the idea of letting districts go below 175 class days this year.
The Ferndale Public Schools, which closed Monday, are down to two remaining snow days, Superintendent Blake Prewitt said. But he’s not calling for the state to allow students to miss more days without making them up.
“Losing one day of instruction has a large impact,” he said. “Teachers plan their lessons according to the curriculum and attempt to fit in the required curriculum into the days they have. Every day that is missed means that something has to be adjusted and some other part of the curriculum might suffer.”
Students in the Livonia Public Schools have missed five days so far, spokeswoman Stacey Jenkins said. “It’s always the goal to stay on track with instruction and keep students focused on learning when there are disruptions such as back-to-back snow days in a given week,” she said. Jenkins declined to comment on Potvin’s proposal.
As of Monday, Birmingham Public Schools had used two snow days, spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson said.
“Whenever we do miss school due to weather-related closings, we must work even harder to make sure that all material is covered,” she said. “Students do make up the missed work, but the rich experience that comes from the classroom interaction is missed.”
Some districts in other parts of the state are at or beyond the six-day limit, including Lansing and Jackson, which used their sixth snow days Friday, and Holland Public Schools, which closed Friday for the seventh time this winter. All were open Monday.
The latest blast of arctic air also caused several water main breaks. Temperatures dipped to minus 14 at the National Weather Service station at White Lake Township and minus 4 at Detroit Metro Airport. According to NWS records, so far this is the third coldest February on record, with an average temperature of 15.4 degrees. The record is 12.2, set in 1875.
The mercury last rose above freezing in Detroit on Feb. 11, when the high was 34 degrees.
Eastpointe officials blame subzero temperatures for a break in a water main that submerged a half-mile stretch of Kelly Road under at least a foot of water.
A water main break also flooded the basement of a water treatment plant on the southwest side of Detroit, according to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Staff Writer Tom Greenwood and the Associated Press contributed.
Tuesday: Windy and partly cloudy until about noon, with morning low around zero. There is a 60 percent chance of snow with accumulations of 1/2 inch. Highs of 18 to 22.
Tuesday night: There is a 60 percent chance of snow with accumulation of perhaps 1/2 inch. Lows of 5 to 9.
Wednesday: Mostly sunny until early afternoon. Highs of 12 to 16.
Wednesday night: Partly cloudy with lows of minus 4 to minus 10.
Thursday: Partly cloudy with highs of 8 to 12.
Thursday night: Clear with lows of minus 4 to minus 10.
Friday: Mostly sunny with highs of 14 to 18.
Friday night: Mostly clear with lows of minus 3 to 3.