Snow days have started to eat into summer vacation for Fairfax County schools.
Schools have lost eight days to snow and frigid conditions so far this year, leaving no room to spare on the calendar.
Makeup days for earlier weather-related closings scuttled planned long weekends, including Presidents Day this week. But last week’s snow days pushed the last day of school from Friday, June 20, to Monday, June 23, and any additional weather-related closings would further cut into the summer holiday.
“There’s no space left on the schedule,” said John Torre, spokesman for the county school system. “We had to extend the school year beyond the planned end date.”
State law does provide an option that could save summer vacation.
The state sets the requirements for makeup days due to severe weather and other emergency situations. If local school districts do not follow these rules, they face a reduction in state funding.
But the state Board of Education can waive these makeup day stipulations for school closings that result from a state of emergency, such as the one Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared ahead of last week’s snowstorm.
Still, students should not count on such a waiver for relief, according to Charles Pyle, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
School districts such as Fairfax County can choose to apply for a waiver, but they must show that they have rescheduled as many days as possible. The state Board of Education would not rubber-stamp such requests but would consider each decision carefully, Pyle said.
“A school division must demonstrate that it has done everything that’s practical, that’s possible, to make up the lost time,” Pyle said.
This year, Fairfax County has missed eight days of school so far. Two days were lost to a snowstorm in December. January saw one closing due to extreme cold and three more to another snowstorm. And snow days seven and eight came last week, Feb. 13-14.
State law requires the first five closings to be made up by schools. FCPS builds three extra days into its calendar over the standard 180-day school year to provide cushioning, but after that it needs to find room for the extra class time.
This year, the Presidents Day holiday scheduled for Monday and a student holiday planned for April 7 were canceled to fill in for the fourth and fifth snow days.
Beyond five closings, school districts only need make up every other missed day, so the sixth snow day in January did not cause any schedule snags.
But with number seven, Fairfax County schools ran out of wiggle room in the calendar, so a day was added to the end of the school year. Any more closings would further extend the calendar into summer vacation.
So far, Fairfax school officials have not discussed any plans to apply for a waiver, Torre said.
Such a waiver has only been granted once since the option was added to state law in 2004, according to Pyle.
Fairfax County received the first, and only, waiver in the 2009-10 school year.
Schools had lost 10 days of school to blizzards in December and February, storms locally dubbed “Snowpocalypse” and “Snowmageddon,” respectively. That equaled four makeup days on top of the three built into the school calendar, one more than required so far this year.
The state Board of Education granted a waiver allowed FCPS to forgo one of those makeup days.