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Winter Weather Prompts ‘Snow Days' Questions

February 5, 2015 

LANSING – Winter’s inevitable snow storm is generating renewed interest in so-called “snow days” – school days missed due to snow, ice, and frigid temperatures.

According to state law, districts are required to offer at least 1,098 hours of instruction in the 2014-15 school year. The districts also must provide a minimum of 175 days of instruction.

Michigan law also allows districts to count six days or equivalent hours of “forgiven” time toward the day and hour requirements when school is canceled due to reasons such as bad weather, sickness outbreaks, and infrastructure problems. Most typically, these are used for “snow days.”

Any classroom time a district or school loses beyond the allowable six days must be rescheduled in order to receive its full amount of State School Aid funds. In past years, some districts have chosen to recoup this classroom time by adding additional minutes on to the remaining school days, in order to reach the required 1,098-hour minimum. 

“Districts must close from time to time due to snow days and other bad weather, but I encourage districts not to add hours of missed instruction time to the end of the school day and instead  make up full days of instruction,” said State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. “Adding a few minutes on at the end of each remaining day will not result in added learning by the students, which should be the goal of school.”

The State Superintendent may only grant additional days or hours of forgiven time for instruction time missed after April 1, under the law. This forgiveness is known as “snow-day waivers.” With the State Superintendent’s approval, a district may be granted up to an additional six days or equivalent hours of snow-day waivers, but again, only for cancellations that happen after April 1.

As a practice, Superintendent Flanagan does not grant waivers for post-April 1 instruction time missed, because he believes students deserve as much time in the classroom as possible.

In the 2013-14 school year, Michigan’s 852 local school districts missed 9½ days on average, due to conditions beyond the school officials’ control, such as bad weather, compared with five days the previous year. 

Snow days, like snow fall, vary in a state as large as Michigan. More than 10 districts missed 10 or more full days of school last year.

Morley Stanwood Community Schools, located about 50 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, had 19 snow days. Ovid-Elsie Area Schools in mid-Michigan had to cancel 15 days. Both rural districts rescheduled full days to make up that necessary time.

Since Michigan is a “local control state” for school districts, deciding when to close schools due to bad weather is a decision local district superintendents must make – sometimes on a daily basis in the winter.

They consult the National Weather Service and local media weather alerts; early-morning drives through their districts; communications with local road commissions; and collaborating with fellow superintendents in the region.